If “Limitless” has taught me anything, it’s that drugs are awesome. I mean, really, super, awesome awesome. Besides making you the coolest, smartest, and most good looking guy in the room, drugs can also turn you into a Wall Street whiz. Plus, chicks want to have sex with you. Like, all the time. Everywhere. And we’re talking hot chicks too. Exotic ladies from places where they speak in funny accents, even. It’s friggin awesome. Or at least, that’s what Neil Burger’s “Limitless” taught me. I’m sure there must have be an underlying theme somewhere that goes beyond that simple idea, but I can’t find it, and honestly, I don’t want to dig too deep because it might mess up my buzz.
The drug of choice for failed writer Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a little clear looking raindrop of a gem called NZT. It’s experimental, definitely not FDA-approved (despite what his ne’er-do-well ex-brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth) tells him), but man, does it come with presents galore. The drug’s number one problem? It tends to make you gimpy. Or dead. Depending on your lot in life, one of those side affects may be unfavorable. Until then, though, you’re flying high, and as Vernon promises, you’ll be accessing that 80% of your brain that you never have before. You’ll be remembering things you didn’t even remember you could, you know, remember, see your enemies make their move before they realize they’re about to make it, and decipher Wall Street shenanigans with ease. Unless you stop taking NZT. That’s when the bad stuff kicks in. But hey, as long as you don’t stop taking it, what’s to worry about? Am I right?
Of course, there’s plenty for our man Eddie to worry about. After ditching his writing gig for the much more lucrative world of finance, Eddie’s newfound (and instant) fame in the money game brings him to the attention of a couple of unsavory types. Corporate raider Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro) and a heavily-accented loan shark thug (Andrew Howard) both want a piece of Eddie, for essentially the same reason — make more money for them. Plus, his new ability to pick up foreign languages (and foreign chicks) has turned off his long-time girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish), who he lost, won back, and loses again. Add to that an impending murder charge that he may or may not have committed and a creepy looking middle age guy stalking his every turn, and Eddie’s fortunes are suddenly not looking so hot. Maybe NZT isn’t all it’s cracked up to be after all?
Directed by Neil Burger, the man responsible for the excellent and underappreciated “The Illusionist”, “Limitless” is one heck of a breezy hop and a scotch down the rabbit hole. The film’s premise allows Burger to use a variety of camera tricks to make his point. When Eddie is on NZT, he literally steps out of his own body, and time and space become a blur. The film is surprisingly CG heavy, since in order to achieve the cinematic effect of Eddie on NZT, Burger uses everything from neverending camera zooms to some nifty scenes of Eddie working a room from end to end in one faux continuous shot. Burger has never really directed a pure action movie (though there are plenty of action in “Limitless”, including a pretty impressive fight in a subway station), but I would love to see him dive head-first into the genre sometime in the future. There are some intense, well-staged fights to be found here.
Cooper is ideal for the role, and his transformation from loser to winner goes beyond an expensive haircut and new threads. Eddie’s change is not just cosmetic, it’s more in the personality, the attitude that Eddie (by way of Bradley Cooper) beam off him like great big headlights. Robert De Niro is, well, Robert De Niro. I never really bought his corporate raider, but he’s good for a chuckle or two, especially whenever he channels his back alley knuckle breaker in a three-piece suit, which he does oh so brilliantly. Abbie Cornish has the thankless role of Eddie’s girlfriend, which really doesn’t amount to much, though the contrast of a mousy Cornish in “Limitless” and her upcoming, machine-gun packing role in Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” kept me plenty occupied. Andrew Howard brings the viciousness as the thug Gennady, and is delightfully evil throughout. Possibly the film’s best scene involves Gennady late in the movie that had members of the screening audience in equal measures laughing and cringing.
“Limitless” is based on the novel by Alan Glynn called “The Dark Fields”, which, I hear, was much more bleak. The movie version, adapted by longtime Hollywood screenwriter Leslie Dixon (the gal has been around since 1987’s “Outrageous Fortune”), is a breezy and entertaining movie that effortlessly sprints by in a blur of impressive visuals, an excellent soundtrack, and catchy, often amusing narration from hero Eddie Morra. There may or may not be a message anywhere in “Limitless” (“Drugs are bad, kids. Mmmkay?”), not that it matters. I had a blast swimming in the film’s often chaotic visual razzle dazzle, and like good ol Eddie popping his first NZT capsule, left feeling pretty good about myself.
Neil Burger (director) / Leslie Dixon (screenplay), Alan Glynn (novel)
CAST: Bradley Cooper … Eddie Morra
Robert De Niro … Carl Van Loon
Abbie Cornish … Lindy
Andrew Howard … Gennady
Anna Friel … Melissa
Johnny Whitworth … Vernon