Review: Limitless (2011)

Director: Neil Burger

***

A famous warning on old arcade games informed us that “winners don’t use drugs.” No one told Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), a wannabe writer who’s prone to procrastination. In fact, his procrastination has led to him losing his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish), his sense of hygiene and reduced him to looking like a bum. If this was a true representation of procrastination, then frankly most of the Western world would die of abject poverty! A chance run-in with his former brother-in-law (Johnny Whitworth) leads to Eddie being introduced to NZT, a mind-altering drug that allows the brain to function at 100% capacity, as opposed to the approximately 20% we usually use. Before you can ask “Is this even legal?”, Eddie ingests this wonder pill and bashes out a book in four days. All this happens before Limitless has run half an hour. If a drug can help you do all this, was South Park’s Mr Mackey deluding himself when he proclaimed “Drugs are bad, m’kay”? Well, this is an action movie, so don’t expect it to tackle any such finicky questions head-on.

The idea that our brains only function at 20% capacity has been proven to be a fallacy. Despite this, screenwriter Leslie Dixon delivers a script that pokes at a few interesting ideas, only to suffocate them by shovelling on plot thread after plot thread to form a hodge-podge of stories that go by so quickly that they’d strain believability if only we had enough time to get our heads around them! So, once Eddie gets his book done, he sets about conquering Wall Street, which in turn catches the attention of business tycoon Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro, earning a quick paycheck), whilst winning back his girlfriend (Cornish, saddled with a threadbare role) and keeping the mobsters to whom he owes money off his back. That’s at least three films’ worth of plotlines, and they’re all crammed into 105 minutes. Dixon and director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) seem to think that since their character can think at breakneck speed, so can the audience. There’s gambling, fight scenes and a plotline with Eddie’s ex-wife (Anna Friel) to get through before the final reel, and that’s before we get to the side effects of the drug! Following the plot will either give you a mental workout or a migraine.

If you do lose the plot (literally), there is still enough in Limitless to keep it afloat. When Eddie becomes chemically “Enhanced”, DP Jo Willems goes berserk with the Technicolour, while Burger’s direction is a whirling dervish of zooms, cuts and jumps. It’s a visual treat, yet if Limitless is remembered for nothing else, it will have signalled the moment Bradley Cooper arrived. The likes of The Hangover saw him work well in a (wolf-)pack, but Limitless requires him to shoulder the burden of the film alone. His charisma and mad-eyed energy keep the increasingly ridiculous story from completely collapsing in on itself. His peril may not be believable, but he sure makes it entertaining. Limitless is unquestionably silly but still fun, and boasts a tiny bit more intelligence than its pay grade would suggest.

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