Busting at the seams with its spunky, offbeat vibe, the thriller Limitless is like the super-drug it peddles. With its miraculous promises, the film is too intriguing not to bite. When it hits your bloodstream, the high is exhilarating. But once that buzz starts to wear thin, things become exhausting. It’s the type of movie filmmakers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (the duo behind the Crank series) could’ve possibly written if they hadn’t hit the 8-ball so hard.
Based on Alan Glynn’s 2001 “techno-thriller” novel The Dark Fields — which expands on the oft-repeated myth that humans use only 10 percent of their brains at a time — Limitless tosses logic out the window, but does so with some entertainment value during the first hour of this pharmaceutical sci-fi starring the occasionally likeable Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, The A-Team).
Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a failed writer who can’t finish his book or keep a girlfriend and looks like he’s been sleeping under a highway for the past year. All his problems are solved when he is introduced to a tiny, clear pill known as NZT that activates the brain’s complex circuitry and allows him to use 100 percent of it 100 percent of the time.
With his sudden surge of brilliance, the “enhanced Eddie” is able to access infinite amounts of knowledge, learn new languages in minutes, and cash in at the poker table. Add a little hair gel and some designer duds and the fast-talking and now extremely charming Eddie is primped to take on the world and bag every hottie he can impress with his massive mind.
While Eddie’s smarts are never in question (in one scene he seems to be channeling a lecturing Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting), it’s the script by Leslie Dixon (Hairspray, The Heartbreak Kid) that needs some sharpening. Approaching the narrative from a very conventional angle, Dixon delivers an innocuous screenplay to director Neil Burger (The Lucky Ones, The Illusionist) set in the cutthroat financial sector. When Eddie starts crunching numbers for stock-market tycoon Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), he becomes a character plucked straight out of Wall Street.
Stylized without being obnoxious, Limitless makes some unique choices in cinematography and art direction, but comes up short on substance. Skimping on the most interesting facets of the story (questions about addiction and damaged psyches), Limitless shies away from thought-provoking elements and spirals into its own mental breakdown.
Dir. Neil Burger; writ. Leslie Dixon; feat. Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish, Andrew Howard, Anna Friel, Johnny Whitworth, Tomas Arana. (PG-13)