Friday, March 25, 2011


Limitless is a run-of-the-mill drama populated with tons of imagery and plot points we've seen hundreds of times before on the big screen. The basic premise - a guy finds a drug that grants him access to his entire mind, enabling his meteoric rise to prominence - and variations on it have been done to death. But though it leans heavily on tired plot points, the film somehow manages to be a quick digestible thriller that doesn't overextend its message or reach for ideas that are too grandiose. It's a B movie through and through, complete with ratcheting levels of lunacy that increase with the runtime.

Director: Neil Burger
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish

Originally set as a starring vehicle for Shia LaBeouf, the movie features rising star Bradley Cooper as he ably steps into this role. As is the case with most of his films, Cooper is enjoyable to watch. This role doesn't require much range from the actor, but before he begins taking NZT (the name of the drug), we see - ever so briefly - Cooper as a schlubby writer: unkempt, dirty, a failure at his job, and dumped by his girlfriend. Quickly though, as if the writer has no confidence in her lead actor to pull off a convincing duality (or, more likely, she just didn't care), Cooper morphs into the smarmy cocksure douchebag he's made a career out of playing. Still fun to watch, just not as interesting.

When a chance meeting with an old acquaintance leads Eddie Morra (Cooper) to NZT, life can't get much worse for him. But he soon realizes that this drug isn't exactly street legal: it allows users to access all of their brain power, making Eddie the smartest guy in the room - regardless of what room he's in. It only takes him a few minutes to realize the drug's potential (he has sex with his landlord's daughter almost instantly due to his newfound conversational charm from unlocking eidetic memory), and soon after, Eddie's on his way to the top. The movie basically turns into Wall Street: Drugs Never Sleep, and Robert De Niro pops in for about half an hour of total screen time to raise the stakes as one part of a huge company merger Eddie helps negotiate.


I love Limitless for embracing insanity as it nears the end: the scene in which Abbie Cornish sprints across an outdoor ice rink, grabs a random child, and swings her around using the still-attached skate to slice her pursuer's face got a huge laugh from me because until that point, the film had toed the line of being legitimate. After that, it's game on for all kinds of crazy stuff, including Bradley Cooper drinking that guy's blood to get the last of the NZT (which I called as soon as the dude injected it, as I'm sure many of you did). There are no consequences for Eddie's actions throughout almost the whole movie; in fact, it rewards him for taking this drug! He theoretically killed that woman in the hotel room, he treats his girlfriend like crap (see: the aforementioned "landlord's daughter" incident) and of course she comes back to him, and he kills multiple people. His punishment? He becomes an elected government official and manages to reverse-engineer the drug so he's always on it with no side effects. What kind of message is Neil Burger trying to send here?


While most of this movie treads familiar territory, there is one aspect in which it breaks relatively new ground: the fantastic opening credits sequence and an effect that's featured a few times in the movie. Check it out below:

I've never seen anything quite like that before, and though Burger overuses it a bit, it's still a really cool effect and perhaps the one standout aspect that makes this film memorable. Matt Singer over at IFC talked to the director about these "fractal zooms" and his piece is definitely worth a read if you're as interested in this as I am.

Limitless isn't quite bad enough or exploitive enough to be called trash cinema. It's not a great movie or anything, but if you can get past Cooper's greased hair and pompous swagger, it's a fun time with enough ridiculousness to make it worth your while if you're cruising through Netflix Instant on a weeknight. I won't be watching this again for a few years (if ever), but the parts mentioned in the spoiler section above (not to mention those rad credits) made me glad I checked it out. Until next time...

1 comment:

The Real Alan Trehern said...

Man, when the credits are the only thing that sells this movie, you know you got a waste of time on your hands....