Saturday, December 10, 2011

"Limitless" (2011)

Starring Bradley Cooper, Robert de Niro and Abbie Cornish
Written by Leslie Dixon
Directed by Neil Burger
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language, drug use
Running Time: 105 Minutes

Playing out like a Phillip K. Dick story, "Limitless" stars Bradley Cooper as a failing writer who comes into possession of a secret weapon.

Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a writer... so he tells himself.  He currently has a book contract with a publisher, but his deadline is approaching and he hasn't written a single word.  He lives in a crappy apartment that he can't keep clean, he can barely pay his rent, and to make matters worse, his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) dumps him.  Just as Eddie wonders how much worse his life can get, he has a chance encounter with his ex brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth).  Vernon used to be a drug dealer, but he assures Eddie that he's no longer in that game.

Instead, he tells Eddie that he consults for a pharmaceutical company which has just created something new and extraordinary: NZT, which Vernon claims will allow Eddie to utilize the full potential of his brain.  Eddie refuses, but ends up taking one of Vernon's free samples, and immediately realizes that Vernon's claims are true.  His intelligence, his charm, his confidence, everything is boosted and soon Eddie finds himself entering a whole new world.  He finishes his book, and his publisher is astonished by its quality.  He begins to trade stocks and quadruples his money.

He goes back to Vernon to get more, but finds Vernon murdered and his apartment ransacked.  Eddie steals the rest of Vernon's stash of NZT and begins to set himself up for life.  He becomes a shooting star on Wall Street and quickly gains the attention of high roller Carl Van Loon (Robert de Niro) who wants him to consult on a very important merger.  Unfortunately, Eddie has also run afoul of Russian mobster Gennady (Andrew Howard) who loaned him his initial startup capital. 

With his life quickly spiraling out of control, Eddie must figure out how to find more NZT before withdrawal kills him, or before the Russians do, or before he ends up costing Carl Van Loon millions and millions of dollars if the merger fails.

"Limitless" caught my eye when the trailers first appeared earlier this year.  I wanted to see it, but didn't really get around to the theatre for it.  I'm glad to say that it was an enjoyable experience. Bradley Cooper is a talented, charismatic leading man.  He's come a long way from a supporting player on "Alias," which I enjoyed greatly for its first three seasons.  Now, of course, he's the mega-star of movies like "The Hangover" (and it's sadly lesser sequel) and "The A-Team." But he maintains his charm throughout.

Director Neil Burger constructs a film with an interesting visual style, employing some interesting yet disconcerting visual effects to tell his story.  Much of the film concerns itself with Eddie's meteoric rise, but once everything starts coming to a head, the film begins to fall prey to its baser thriller instincts.  Some of the action sequences are a little pedestrian, but there's always a few clever touches here or there to keep things interesting, especially some rather genius use of an ice skating little girl during a chase through the park. 

The film's world is essentially just our own, save the one caveat of the film's premise.  With it's light sci-fi hook, "Limitless" is easy to get into as it doesn't really ask the viewer to believe too hard in something that can't exist.  The nature of the NZT drug is never explained, much like the dream machine in "Inception."  It's just a MacGuffin to get things moving, and an understanding of the technology behind it is not important to the plot.  You just need to know that it works, and that's it.

But as entertaining as it is, "Limitless" is a little hollow.  There are some brief explorations of whether or not a person taking NZT is the same person if they're doing things they never would have done before they were on the drug.  But much of the movie is concerned with moving the story forward and getting to the big finish rather than exploring the characters or the philosophical implications of a drug that can make you "better." 

So while it ironically doesn't live up to its full potential, "Limitless" is well-made and highly entertaining, with a great cast and some clever twists and turns.  I'm still sorry I missed it in the theatres, but "Limitless" ended up being well worth my time and I think it will be worth yours, too.