Limitless 2 1/2 stars (out of 4) Rated: 14A
For a guy with a super genius IQ, Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) does some pretty dumb things.
Things like keeping his brain drug stash out in the open. Or walking around unprotected in New York City when he knows gangsters are after him. And what’s he doing standing precariously on a skyscraper ledge?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, even though the chemically enhanced Limitless is all about pushing limits. The film makes some dumb moves, too, but overall it’s smart entertainment that even manages to make Robert De Niro, Cooper’s co-star, sound fully engaged.
Limitless is directed by Neil Burger, whose previous film The Illusionist made a small budget seem like a blockbuster one. He works similar magic with slightly more money this time, using a technique he calls “fractal zoom” to illustrate the speeded-up thoughts and actions in Eddie’s newly wired world.
How wired? Imagine if you could remember everything you’ve seen, heard and learned in your life, immediately summoning it with boundless energy. All thanks to a mysterious drug called NZT, delivered via a pill that looks like a clear button, which transforms Eddie from a down-and-out writer into a Wall Street winner, a multi-tasking magician and a bedroom stallion.
He scores the stash from the sketchy Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), brother of Eddie’s ex-wife Melissa (Anna Friel), whom we meet in the world’s fastest romantic flashback: from “I do” to “This isn’t working” in a heartbeat.
The premise of Limitless is pulp science fiction. NZT has serious side effects, natch, chief among them being blackouts and hallucinations. Oh, and if you stop taking it, you could die.
That is if you don’t first expire at the hands of the loan shark (Andrew Howard) whom you’ve carelessly let in on your secret, or the uncompromising tycoon (De Niro) you’ve made reckless promises to.
At times the script by screenwriter Leslie Dixon (Hairspray), based on Alan Glynn’s novel, The Dark Fields, trades logic for expediency, a strange thing to have in a movie about a mega mind.
How many dim-witted thugs, for example, would just happen to be carrying acetylene torches with them when they’re trying to break into a condo, the one with the dangerous ledge?
There’s also an over-reliance on corny speeches by bad guys who want to take their sweet time delivering the coup de grace. Dixon at least keeps the business jargon brisk, thankfully.
The performances break all barriers for Limitless. Despite his rising status as part of The Hangover money machine, Cooper still possesses enough everyman charm and relative anonymity to pull off a character like Eddie, who is smart enough even without NZT to know he’s pushing his luck.
He’s ideally matched with De Niro, playing the canny Wall Streeter Carl Van Loon, for whom Dixon has penned some of the best dialogue De Niro has had since Goodfellas.
His “Don’t make me your competition” speech to Eddie could become a quotable riff, and so might his warning that a high IQ doesn’t trump hard-won wisdom: “Don’t make the classic smart person’s mistake of thinking no one’s smarter than you.”
Pity that Abbie Cornish can’t join in on the fun. Her role as Eddie’s skeptical girlfriend Lindy is so scant, she might as well be listed in the credits as “The Girl.”
It’s a missed opportunity, because she proved in the criminally overlooked Candy that she knows her way around a movie fuelled by drugs.
She hits the glass ceiling in this male-dominated movie, which is another of those unfortunate side effects that nobody wants.
Peter Howell is a syndicated movie critic for The Toronto Star.