POSTED ON MARCH 23, 2011:
Drug of Choice
Limitless delivers a dizzying mix of suspense and sci-fi with a few tolerable side effects.
How many of you would take a pill that would give you immediate access to the vast majority of the brain's unused power? Some hard choices would have to be made as the pill would be expensive and might cause an unknown amount of long-term damage, but it would allow you to do everything better than you did before. Way better.
Considering we live in a society where people take pills to cure a host of maladies ranging from restless leg syndrome to erectile dysfunction, the better question is how many of you wouldn't take a pill that would turn you into a mental Jedi?
That's the gist of the plot of Limitless, an all-over-the-map concoction that blends suspense, neuro sci-fi and satire in a dizzying mix that never lets off the gas pedal. Not everything works and there are some missteps, but when a film is going this full-bore and hitting on enough targets, its errors are forgivable. Limitless is a surprisingly fun guilty pleasure and a blast of summer-styled mass entertainment in these early days of spring.
Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, The A-Team) is Eddie, a long-haired, disheveled writer struggling to meet the deadlines for the novel he excruciates over day after day. His attempts to put words onto an empty page create more guilt and self-hatred than sentences. Then his beautiful, successful girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) dumps him in a diner. Things are certainly bad for Eddie, but they are about to get better.
Eddie bumps into his ex-brother-in-law Vernon, who thinks Eddie is living on the streets since he is cultivating the look of a downtrodden writer. It seems the one-time drug dealer Vernon claims he's gone legitimate and has a new product to dispense. Known as NZT48, it will soon be FDA approved and will allow Eddie to use 80 percent more of his brain for its duration in his bloodstream. Eddie is immediately intrigued and takes a freebie.
In less than a minute after ingesting, NZT48 electrifies Eddie's world. Everything is brighter, clearer and sharper. Eddie's brain is bursting with as many ideas as the Amazon is long. He immediately uses his new powers to bed a hot law student, clean his dump of an apartment and go on the King Kong of all writing binges to produce a massive chunk of his wreck of a book. When Eddie wakes up, the dynamic rush of the previous night is over and he wants another pill -- and he wants it bad. Such begins Eddie's odyssey that will lead him to every stripe of danger, both for himself and for others, all in the quest to maintain his supply of the perfect little pill to swallow.
Pill Popper. Limitless Director Neil Burger pulls out all the stops. Shaky handhelds, shots with lenses made to resemble the photographic fisheye technique, morphing color palettes indicating when the drug is in control and upside down shots for absolutely no reason are all on display.
You can say what you want about Limitless, but one thing you cannot claim is that it isn't energetic. Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist, the 2006 film with Edward Norton, not the recent animated French film The Illusionist) pulls out all the stops. Shaky handhelds, shots with lenses made to resemble the photographic fisheye technique, morphing color palettes indicating when the drug is in control and upside down shots for absolutely no reason are all on display. Berger's favorite excess (he uses it in the opening credits and then a second time he liked it so much) is a brazen, CGI-aided zoom that allows him to blur through New York City in huge sections at a time. I have to admit, it looked pretty cool.
There is some decent satire in Limitless, but it wasn't as biting as it could have been since the film wanted to concentrate more on giving the audience a rollicking good time rather than delivering a message. Astute viewers can read between the lines regarding the pill and the American culture that has catapulted pharmaceutical sales figures into hundreds of billions for the influential companies that produce the drugs. Expensive new medicine is being designed every day that will be marketed as life altering and let's face it, the pharmaceutical industry is as much about greed as it is healing. If they can make us better, great. But it better make a profit first.
Limitless has its flaws. The most obvious is the over-use of Cooper's narration throughout the film. I'm forever harping on too much narration as I see it as lazy writing, but in Limitless it is also kind of smarmy whilst making us not like Eddie. Also, Robert De Niro is completely wasted in his role as an older financial kingpin who employs Eddie after he gives up on writing to maintain his new high-roller lifestyle. Granted, De Niro is phoning it in most of the time these days, but he could have added a lot of weight to the film if given more to do. He is as invisible in Limitless as I've ever seen him and it's just as sad as when he is mugging it up for a paycheck.
Limitless is Bradley Cooper's first attempt at being a leading man and he delivers, thanks to a gleefully unrestrained effort from director Neil Berger that blends a maniacally energetic story with dark, comic overtones regarding our human desire to be perfect. There is probably a secret drug very close to the fictional NZT48 being engineered in a laboratory right at this moment. How many of you would take it?
Limitless probably won't sway your opinion, but you'll have a pretty good time watching the pharma-thriller nonetheless.
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