Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Neil Burger

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish, Andrew Howard, Anna Friel, Johnny Whitworth, Tomas Arana

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material involving a drug, violence including disturbing images, sexuality and language)

Running Time: 1:45

Release Date: 3/18/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 17, 2011

When reduced to its core, Limitless is really about cheating, so it's no surprise that the movie repeatedly cheats its own setup, especially in its conquering-all-comers finale, to come to whatever conclusion we're supposed to draw from it. There is a point, we have to assume, about how power is like a drug, and that a drug that promises power is sure to destroy, and that the resulting destruction can be overpowered, and that this movie is really just a bunch of contradictory thematic lessons rolled into a frenzied narrative with lots of stylistic flash.

"Hollow" is a favorite, perhaps overused, term in the critic's handbook (Speaking of which, "Everything in moderation" is another potential take-away from the movie, even if its concept that only bold people performing bold actions achieve bold results negates it) but it's probably the one most in tune with the whole of Limitless.

The premise (from Alan Glynn's novel The Dark Fields), that a single, tiny pill could hold the power to unlock the potential of every neuron in one's brain, is pure wish fulfillment, and that might be where the main paradox lies. For why would anyone want to deal with the seen or unseen consequences of absolute power? What's the fun in worrying about losing your soul when you can gain the world?

That's the minor dilemma for Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), a struggling writer in New York City (I again ask, is there any other kind?) whose girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) breaks up with him while he's suffering from a debilitating case of writer's block. Drinking himself into a stupor in the afternoon, staring at a blank word processor document, and looking and dressing like a bum on the street, Eddie finds a break in his downward spiral when he happens across his ex-wife's brother Vernon (Johnny Whitworth).

The usual catching up occurs, and Eddie lets his former in-law know his troubles. Vernon offers some aid in the form of MDT-48, a little, clear pill that, he says, will let the partaker access the entirety of the brain and not just the 20 percent we usually actively use. After one dose, Eddie manages to seduce his landlord's wife, write her thesis, clean his entire apartment, and churn out the most breathtaking pieces of fiction his publisher has ever read.

The experience is addictive. Soon enough, he's hooked on the stuff, and it lets him discover new people (including a CEO played by Robert De Niro who wants to hire Eddie for his newfound ability to interpret the ins and outs of the stock market), new and exotic places, new outlooks on the world, and, of course, new ways to use these new things to make a lot of money. The cleaner, successful version of Eddie even wins back Lindy. This is all after Vernon is murdered in his apartment by someone looking for his stash of MDT-48.

Naturally, there are repercussions, primarily that the drug's side effects include change in personality, complete black-outs (during one of which, Eddie may have murdered someone, though that mystery is left dangling by the end), and the eventual slow decay and death of almost everyone who's ever taken the drug in excess and run out of it (The plot includes the machinations of at least one such individual in his attempts to obtain more, though the movie suggests the success of many influential people can be attributed to it). These facts weigh heavily on Eddie's expanded mind, although the pros outshine the cons. Whatever sympathy we could have for Eddie diminishes greatly from his vaulting, self-destructive ambition, and whatever tension might result from the destructive nature of the pill is diminished by Eddie's ability to avoid the dangerous effects.

A pair of subplots come out of left field to inject some craziness in the proceedings, which is otherwise left to director Neil Burger's editing and camera tricks (a few endless zooms through the streets, oblique angles, and several X-ray vision shots come to mind). One involves a mystery man (Tomas Arana) trailing Eddie and later Lindy, who after taking one of the pills spots a multitude of possible weapons and decides to use—I kid you not—a girl wearing ice skates as a weapon against him.

The other concerns a generic, Eastern European mobster (Andrew Howard) to whom Eddie owes money and who becomes hooked on the drug himself. This leads to Limitless' most inspired sequence, a shootout in an enclosed fortress of an apartment that includes a blinded man shooting, well, blindly and a vampiric act by Eddie to get a burst of the drug. Nothing else in the movie comes close to this unbridled insanity, though, if it had, there might have been more reason to accept its bizarre rationale.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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