With the first sleeper hit of the first quarter of 2011, Bradley Cooper pulls off a dramatic action role as a man discovering the limits of the capable human intellect, a turn sure to help the actor’s burgeoning career.
Originally a vehicle meant for Shia LaBeouf, who had to bow out after his motorcycle crash in 2008, “Limitless” shines as a cerebral thriller.
Out-of-work writer Eddie Morra (Cooper) is rejected by his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish), confirming his belief that he has no future. That all vanishes the day an old friend introduces Eddie to MDT, a designer pharmaceutical that makes him laser-focused and more confident than any man alive. Now on an MDT-fueled odyssey, everything Eddie’s read, heard or seen is instantly organized and available to him. As the former nobody rises to the top of the financial world, he draws the attention of business mogul Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), who sees this enhanced version of Eddie as the tool to make billions.
But brutal side effects jeopardize his meteoric ascent. With a dwindling stash and hit men seeking to eliminate him to get the MDT, Eddie must stay wired long enough to elude capture and fulfill his destiny. If he can’t, he will become just another victim who thought he’d found invincibility in a bottle. (Summary by Relativity Media)
Not to show a full-on man-crush on Bradley Cooper, but he quickly dispels any doubts that he can pull off a leading role in a film. De Niro does not show up until a limited role late in the film, and the rest of the cast reads like a casting call from regional dinner theater. Of course, it is easy to shine when your competition is essentially non-existent. De Niro does put Cooper in his place late in the movie with an emphatic soliloquy about paying his dues that will have you pressed into your seat with its intensity, but outside that moment he is as memorable as a bout of ether.
A few creative visuals are used early in the film to explain the effects of MDT without getting bogged down in dialogue-driven explanations—a good choice by director Neil Burger, who does not have wide film-making experience. Gradually these tricks fade away to focus on the ways Eddie is going to use the drug to pull his life together. He frequently speaks of a “great plan” he developed to make a difference in the world, while his reality amounts to little more than nailing any woman within a 10-foot radius and attempting to amass a lordly sum of money via brokerage-trading algorithms.
It is never made clear if winning back his girlfriend, making absurd amounts of money, or the aforementioned man-whoring is the end game of the “plan,” all of which is accomplished with minimal effort or reason. Maybe there’ll be a sequel where the “plan” is explained as he cures cancer, adopts orphans from a third-world country, and wins the war on terrorism using mind bullets.
The major criticism lies in the lack of continuity in the story line. Obviously the mind-altering camera play from the effects of MDT could explain this away, but it seemed more the essence of lazy writing than intent. Some story lines don’t resolve, others resolve with a quick one-liner, and others get a sharp 180 contrary to the current flow of the overall storyline at the time of resolution. If nothing else, there should be a significant number of deleted scenes on the DVD release hopefully showing all the scraps left on the editing room floor, cuts forced by a studio that picked the film’s brevity over its continuity.
Eddie’s super brain works best under the suggestion that human potential is limited only by the skill of the person writing your dialogue. The questionable premises raised by the lack of thought by the screenwriter are like the proverbial house built on sand – the less time you spend there the better. While it is easy to pick apart the writing, the film is enjoyable to watch and Cooper’s performance comes in with both guns blazing, more than enough to distract you from the flaws.
“See It/ Rent It/ Skip It”: See it. Watch Bradley Cooper attempt to dispel the rumors he is secretly gay by making love to as many D-list actresses as possible in 105 minutes. My count was 8.
THREE STARS out of four.
Directed by Neil Burger. Written by Leslie Dixon (screenplay), Alan Glynn (novel).
Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving a drug, violence including disturbing images, sexuality and language.
Runtime: 1 hour, 45 min