It's an interesting idea: they say human beings only use ten percent of their brains. What if there were a miracle drug that cleared the usual traffic, got the synapses firing, and allowed someone to use all of that potential? That
idea is at the heart of Limitless, the new film from writer/director Neil Burger (whose last film The Lucky Ones was disappointingly underseen). Sadly, not only is the "ten percent" factoid actually a myth, but Limitless increasingly reveals a number of creative boundaries.
Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a would-be writer struggling to get his first book out of his head and onto the page. After one of his usual early-morning bar check-ins, he runs into his former brother-in-law Vernon, whose expensive
suit, fine watch and cutting-edge cell phone indicate a person of higher stature than the drug dealer Vernon was previously. At a bar, Vernon picks up on Eddie's curiosity and slips him something he says "the boys" call NZT: an
innocuous looking clear pill in a tiny plastic bag. On a whim, Eddie gives it a shot, and finds himself soaring: it's like someone handed him the keys to his own brain.
Burger's direction is all over the "limitless" concept, illustrated most potently by a series of dizzying, never-ending zoom/morph shots that are able to travel from Chinatown to Times Square without ever ceasing. He also bathes the
cinematography in a warm, inviting glow whenever Eddie rides the wave, and uses visual effects to illustrate how Eddie's ability to multitask is off the charts (for those with good memories, it brings up memories of Marc Forster's
dreary Stay in terms of directorial style). It's a bit on the flashy side, but it's certainly interesting.
Much less interesting are the standard "miracle MacGuffin" plot tropes, like the creepy guy who seems to want the drugs back, the disturbing potential side effects of taking too much, and the way Eddie's addiction affects things like
his new job brokering a multibillion dollar deal with Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro) and Hank Atwood (Richard Bekins), or his relationship with Lindy (Abbie Cornish). By the time a dumb drug dealer (Andrew Howard) inadvertantly steals
one of Eddie's pills and starts demanding more, Burger and the film have clearly lost sight of the concept itself, and the movie becomes uninteresting.
The drug dealer is also indicative of a bigger, more serious problem: Limitless doesn't have a real villain. The mystery creepy guy and drug dealer are there, but neither of them feel like they have more than a momentary advantage over Eddie, and there's nothing (except the equally unthreatening possibility that the drug will kill him) that really stands between Eddie and his addiction. The last scene of the movie comes out of left field; it's a weird, self-satisfied coda that doesn't seem to gel with the rest of the experience. Perhaps it's an attempt to avoid moralizing, but instead, it just feels like the filmmakers' wrote themselves into a corner. If only they had some NZT.
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