Sunday, April 17, 2011


It seems that Hollywood been following a trend of fruitful results of adapted screenplays from bestseller books. Limitless is another case. Adapted for the book The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn it has an intriguing concept – and while it’s not explored as deeply as it could have been, the film still delivers a satisfying ride.

There’s plenty of visual flare, but it feels more like distraction than thoughtful support for its story.  Lead actor Bradley Cooper tries to make the most of his performance, but he lacks the everyman charm that would provide his character with some much-needed sympathy.  Undercut by poor writing, miscasting, and simplistic directing, Limitless may center on a brilliant mind but it lacks a convincing tone.

Eddie Morra (Cooper) is a struggling writer who has lost his girlfriend and is about to be kicked out of his apartment.  Walking down the street, Eddie has a chance encounter with his sketchy former brother-in-law, Vernon (Johnny Whitworth).  Vernon says he’s working for a pharmaceutical company and offers Eddie a clear pill known as “NZT”.  Vernon explains, “You know how we only use 20% of our brains?  Well this pill lets you use all of it.”  Instead of explaining that the brain doesn’t work in a matter of capacity but rather different lobes handle different functions, Eddie simply takes the pill, becomes super smart for about 12 hours, bangs his landlord’s wife, cleans his apartment, and finishes half his novel.

The scene in which this first happens is done very well, with director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) effectively putting us in Eddie’s place not only experiencing the revelation of what’s happening but the process of him putting everything together on the fly, smoothly and seamlessly. Burger does a lot of interesting stuff in the film – some might call it gimmicky.

We get to go along for the exhilarating ride for a while, but soon things get ugly and it becomes clear that other people not only know about this drug, but will stop at nothing to get it. Eddie secures a finite supply and commences transforming his life on turbo charge. As you can imagine, in addition to the fact there are others who want the drug, the benefits don’t come without a down side.

The film rests almost completely on the shoulders of Bradley Cooper and his charm, and he manages to do the job fairly well. He’s so affable and good looking that you can’t help but cut the guy slack when he’s on screen. On the other side of the spectrum we have Robert DeNiro being Robert DeNiro (I love when he does that). In a small supporting role we also have Andrew Howard as a Russian mobster not to be messed with, and his character and performance are also one of the more enjoyable things about the film.

There are interesting ideas swirling at the edges of Limitless.  The film has the opportunity to satirize our prescription-drug, quick-fix culture, or even take an easier route by making the story about a high-functioning addict.  But Limitless ignores these opportunities and never builds to anything thoughtful or provocative.  Instead, Burger’s imagination into Eddie’s hyper-intelligence extends to over-saturating the color palette and a few clever visual effects.

Throughout the film, I couldn’t help but compare the direction of Limitless to the TV show Burn Notice.  Burn Notice is not the smartest show ever. But the show features intelligent protagonists and it carries itself like a smart show.  The narration is professorial, which in turn casts the viewer as the student.  Since students usually considering their professors to be smart, the show looks smart as a result.  It’s a clever way to deliver a tone that’s not inherent in the script.  Limitless lacks that cleverness and creativity and as a result we’re not drawn into Eddie’s story.  Instead, we’re constantly seeing its silliness and shallowness.

This is more of a popcorn movie than I had expected – I went in hoping for something with a bit more substance and perhaps commentary and consequences regarding the use of a fantasy drug that many of us would probably not turn down, but while there was surface level attention paid to that, it didn’t really dig into it. The ending was a bit pat but kind of expected based on the tone, but not unsatisfactory. The film was slick and fairly satisfying, it left me wanting something “meatier” throughout the viewing besides I haven't read the book to compare it. In the end I’d say if you go check this out in the hopes of being entertained that it will do the job for you.


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