Take a pill to make it all better. Lose weight, get some sleep or rage all night without crashing. Fix-all drugs are in high demand, so why not take one that makes you smarter? Such is the question posed by Limitless, in which an unproductive writer tries a pill that jumpstarts his brain and permits him an unparalleled climb up the ladder of success. But, as with most drugs, there are side effects to the covetable cocktail. Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) gets an excellent lead performance out of charismatic Bradley Cooper, and Limitless is slick, humorous and surprisingly substantial entertainment.
Less than a page into the novel he is supposed to write, Eddie Morra (Cooper) lazes about his filthy New York City apartment and lives off girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish). When Eddie misses a book deadline, Lindy dumps him, and Eddie realizes he will never make the rent without a source of income. Eddie then runs into Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), the shady brother of his ex-wife, and Vernon offers him a clear pill he claims is FDA-approved and will help Eddie write his book. Dubbed NZT-48, the drug allows Eddie access to 100 percent of his brainpower instead of the usual 20 percent. When Eddie downs the pill he achieves near instantaneous mental clarity. Inconsequential details and forgotten facts come flooding back to him in waves, and suddenly Eddie is the smartest man in the room. When he goes to get more NZT from Vernon, Eddie discovers the man dead from a gunshot to the head. Eddie calls the police but takes a bag of NZT he finds hidden in Vernon's stove.
With its slick, up-tempo vibe, ample wit and arresting images, Limitless surprised me in theaters when it managed to live up to its intriguing premise. After taking NZT, Eddie bangs out his book in a couple of days before moving on to day trading. Suddenly on mogul Carl Van Loon's (Robert De Niro) professional radar, Eddie enjoys monetary success and the company of some new jet-setting friends before joining Van Loon's investment firm. Just as Eddie hits his stride, he experiences drug-induced heart palpitations and blackouts, which continue to increase in length and severity. Suddenly the suspect in a murder investigation, Eddie realizes NZT may be too good to be true.
Cooper, best known for his role in The Hangover and its sequel, is perfectly cast, and easily embodies both the disheveled slacker Eddie and his polished counterpart with clear-eyed intensity. Limitless contains quite a bit of narration, which, in the hands of a lesser actor, may have felt forced. Eddie is refreshingly honest about needing NZT to stay on point, and hires a chemist to make more of the compound. Van Loon plunges Eddie in over his head on a huge merger, and, as his world begins crumbling around him, Eddie remarks that he was so close to living the dream. It's also nice to see De Niro in a decent role again. While he may not be the physical threat he once was, De Niro is certainly up to playing a business antagonist.
By its conclusion, Limitless implies that NZT is to the business world what cocaine was in the '80s: a highly coveted drug to support a 24/7 lifestyle. Eddie not only must contend with the drug's side effects, but also the realization that others will do just about anything to get their hands on it. Limitless lets viewers decide whether or not Eddie is doing the right thing, or if it even matters. Its morals are delightfully skewed, and Limitless is driving, grade-A entertainment that deftly mixes physical and mental danger with pronounced wit and striking visuals.
PICTURE AND SOUND:
Per their policy, Fox's screening disc does not include the final transfer or soundtrack, so I cannot comment on these areas of the disc. If a retail copy becomes available to me, I will update my review accordingly.
Fox presents Limitless on DVD in both its theatrical version (1:44:39) and an unrated, extended version (1:45:27). Differences between the two are not extensive, but the unrated version contains more profanity, sex and violence.
Extras on the disc include A Man Without Limits (4:29), a brief overview of Eddie Morra, an inferior alternate ending (5:14) and a commentary by Director Neil Burger. The track mostly narrates the action on screen, but Burger does share some interesting information about the film's visual style, editing and genesis in Alan Glynn's novel The Dark Fields, as well as a few funny stories from the set. The film's theatrical trailer is also included.
Above all else, Limitless is a thoroughly entertaining thrill ride with substantial humor and a great performance by Bradley Cooper. Cooper's Eddie Morra takes a drug that makes him an instant professional and financial success by unlocking the full potential of his brain. Of course there are consequences, both physical and social, to using the drug, and dark clouds soon threaten Morra's life at the top. Limitless is easy enough to recommend on its own, and the DVD's bonus features are nothing but icing on an excellent cake. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.