Limitless is an unabashed paean to better living through pharmaceuticals, a film about the thrills and dangers of pushing boundaries, while the film travels well beyond the comfortable parameters of thriller orthodoxy.
Bradley Cooper rides an upward career crest to a dream role that calls for every ounce of his breezy blond-dude cockiness as Eddie Morra, a guy with boundless brainpower — and limited humility. A floundering New York writer with a publisher's advance and no pages to show for it, his life turns on a random encounter with his ex-brother in-law, a flashy hustler, who has somehow gotten his hands on a revolutionary wonder drug. Dubbed NZT, these little clear pills rewire neural pathways and send the synapses into hyperdrive, allowing users to perform incredible mental feats.
Of course, it "works better if you're already smart," and within days Eddie has finished his book, mastered three languages and started day-trading so successfully Warren Buffet would blush. But more money means more problems, and Eddie's instant millions have brought him into the sights of a thuggish Russian mobster and a ruthless corporate raider, played by some no name schnook called Robert De Niro. The plot essentially invites you to outthink it, and you'll spend much time trying to remain a few steps ahead of the allegedly smartest man on earth, a task that isn't all that daunting. Of course, the clever script was written by a mere mortal (Leslie Dixon), without the benefit of a miracle drug, and occasional tears emerge in the fabric.
Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) is one hit away from breaking out, and his frenetic, head-spinning camera work, in which Manhattan streetscapes buzz past like motion-blur photography, is perfect for the material. He's also got a touch with actors; Cooper is outstanding, and De Niro, relieved to not be dodging baby vomit, gives a nicely vintage performance, though he's probably still a little too street to play a penthouse mogul. As Eddie's on-again, off-again love, gorgeous Abbie Cornish makes the most of limited screen time, and, unlike so many stock movie girlfriends, she's actually turned on by her man's new power and questionable behavior.
Limitless is all flash and sizzle, but still delivers; it's equal parts superhero wish fulfillment and cautionary yuppie satire, and it's also a hell of a fun ride. Oddly, the very adult Limitless is pointlessly constrained by the absurd framework of a PG-13 rating. Is this the sort of film that appeals to teens? Is the studio really afraid that they'll lose the Twilight demo? You'll need a brain-enhancing drug to figure that won out.
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