Limitless – 2011

Directed by Neil Berger

Starring Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro, Abbie Cornish

Written by Leslie Dixon

Limitless is basically an addiction movie.  This time, instead of a downward spiral, this one fires up the entire human engine and brings the taker up to potential unbound by the limits of the brain.  Eddie Mora (Cooper, at first in a really bad wig) is a lowly writer with a contract to write a book but no ambition and writer’s block.  These attributes lead his girlfriend, Lindy (Cornish) to give back his keys.  In his moping about afterword, he comes across his drug dealing ex-brother in law Vernon, who now looks to be cleaned up.  Still dealing, only he has gone upscale with the product.  Vernon offers Eddie just one.  Eddie hesitates for a while, in that way they do in movies when they want to add tension.  If Eddie doesn’t take the pill though, we have no movie.

The pill does wonders.  Things learned and read long ago and even more recently all connect at once, bringing a clarity and drive unlike anything he’d ever experienced.  The effects of the drug lead him to new levels of success and new levels of dependence.  When he comes off of it, he is back to normal, no lingering benefit.  Of course this leads the story on a quest to obtain and preserve more of this drug, while avoiding those who seek to do the same.

He quickly finishes his book, which is fawned upon by his publisher.  He then disregards that career and opts for something more lucrative.  He borrows money from the wrong sort, quickly makes that money multiply exponentially, and like the smartest person in the world he has become, promptly forgets to pay off his debts.  Meanwhile, his money making gets him noticed by a Gordon Gekko-like and hilariously named Carl Van Loon (DeNiro, playing DeNiro).  He commits to working with Van Loon, and then the world comes caving in.  He’s back with Lindy, though, when he isn’t nailing tarts.

As a guy for whom everything is all of the sudden pure and easy, Eddie makes a lot of the same mistakes we see in every movie of this type.  This, one knows, is because the screenwriter had not taken the same stuff she put Eddie on.  Director Neil Berger does a very good job with what he has, however.  All of the segues are seamless and the movie stays fresh throughout.  His touch is kind of a less annoying version of Tony Scott.  The cuts are not as quick and there is a cohesion within the scenes that don’t make one want to vomit.  His directing style shows Cooper, post wig, at his best.  Taking advantage of the smile, but not letting him win every scene.

As for Cooper, I think we may have a minor star continuing his rise, here.  His charisma is nicely counterbalanced with his ability to show a thought process.  He doesn’t always win, but he stands a chance.  The arc of his career will be an interesting one, with Garner-like potential.

The mighty Vigo, in another life...
Was the guy chasing Lindy in Ghostbusters II?

The rest of the cast is effective.  Cornish is tossed about like an extra, but then, so is everyone else.  It is interesting to see an actor of DeNiro’s status presented so powerfully, but so inconsequentially.  He tries to throw his weight around, but Cooper’s Eddie has other plans.  The Russian bad guy is the updated version of the “Injun” in cinema.  They are always menacing, but can never win.  Another guy following Eddie around looks like Vigo from Ghostbusters II.  And where ever he goes, dead people stay behind.

The frustrations of a movie like Limitless is the choices taken for the character.  One hopes that when the universe of one’s brain is opened up for business finally, that the person would find ways to exist that did not involve climbing to the top of the messy heap of our current society.  If I had full use of my brain, I might try to get a hold of an incredibly large amount of cash, but it would only be so I could afford the price of a small island off of Costa Rica with an army to protect my holdings.  Then I could spend the rest of my days like John Travolta in Phenomenon, working on a solution for my headaches, while impressing my girlfriend, Kyra Sedgewick.  By employing conventional plot devices and New York centrism into the story, Dixon has taken an off ramp on the freeway to a brilliant script.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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