I once had the genius idea (or so I thought) of penning a story involving a pill that could fix all of your flaws. Bald? No problem, one pop and you’d be growing a lion’s mane. Fat? Simple, give it a couple of minutes and that beer belly would disappear completely. Poorly *ahem* “equipped”? No, even I wouldn’t be able to help out with that. This will be my opus, I thought, only to realize that some schmuck named Alan Glynn did it first. A film adaptation perhaps? Nope, Neil Burger decided to crush my dream. In Limitless, the same principle is applied: What if a pill could unlock sides of you that no one knew existed?
Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a struggling author: His girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish), has just dumped him and he just can’t formulate the right words for his Ayn-Randian masterpiece. Sick of facing the always ominous blank Word document and the only momentary pleasures of hard liquors, he switches over to the saving grace of all hard-pressed novelists — medication. But not your typical Adderall or Prozac, in fact, this experimental drug sends the user’s brain on overdrive, instantaneously tapping into the 80% of it that we don’t use (in reality this idea has been debunked as just another popular myth), allowing for increased learning ability, photographic memory, and faster reflexes. The problem(s)? Eddie got it from his ex-brother-in-law, Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), who is mysteriously killed in his apartment over the pills, and it turns out that it isn’t exactly FDA-approved, probably because the side-effects include fragmented memory, depression, and . . . . death. Talk about a tough pill to swallow, but at least it’s made Eddie millions at the Stock Exchange, finished his book, and has a newly rekindled romance with the blonde bombshell.
Enter Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), esteemed businessman and local billionaire, who hails Eddie a “prophet” yet at the same time, mocks the youth’s lack of on-the-field experience. De Niro, the front man-turned-cheap supporting actor delivers on the same quality work that he’s been dishing out as of late: Not a necessarily bad performance technically but also not very noteworthy. At least there’s an overabundance of his trademark facial expressions, which are always strangely entertaining to see unfold. High marks for Cooper, however, who turns contradictions into strengths, making his character’s overall (albeit intentional) inconsistency pleasurable to watch. Slowly evolving as a performer, he effortlessly showcases wit, paranoia, depression, euphoria, and depravity — all within minutes of each other. Personally, I didn’t expect such a magnetic turn by the actor.
But although the concept of Limitless makes for an intriguing thriller, most of the film’s punch is packed tightly within its first act, before slowly dulling down. From the opening shot and onto about the first-half of the second act, screenwriter Leslie Dixon (Mrs. Doubtfire, Hairspray, Freaky Friday) does well in constructing an outlandish but likeable protagonist who effortlessly spews snappy dialogue all while anchored down from becoming too unrealistic. Then all hell breaks loose. Cue the murders, secret organizations, and hackneyed Russian loan sharks, all of which are thrown in alongside Eddie’s (oftentimes bland) relationship to Lindy, drug-addiction, and partnership with Loon, and are expected to play nice. All of this extra fat weighs down the production, resulting in an uneven resolution with some plotlines receiving more closure than others.
At least Burger’s direction is full of brilliant (though somewhat headache-inducing) visuals that keep the film from becoming too rotten. Color is especially important to Limitless by constantly outlining Eddie’s state of mind. Under the drug’s influence, hues of yellow will frequent the screen, whereas when it subsides, dark blues will become more apparent. Though there are times when things become overly obnoxious with superfluous editing and camerawork that is much too pretentious for its own good (i.e., the camera flips upside-down to a shot of Cooper vomiting so he’s literally throwing up!). Regardless, finding a smarter actioner this early in the year would be next to impossible.