On Saturday afternoon, after watching a beautiful woman eat salad, I went to see Limitless.
I’d heard about this one way back when the first trailer hit the internet. I followed that up by checking out a review or two when it hit US shores. Despite a pretty mild reception by others, I decided I liked the look of it enough to pay for a ticket. The movie sounds simple to start with: Bradley Cooper plays Eddie Morra, the composite loser. He looks like shit, has just been dumped by his too-good-to-be-his girlfriend and hasn’t finished a draft of his novel for the publishing company that barely supports his ponytailed lifestyle with their advance. You don’t need to know how someone like Eddie Morra came to this point in his life, or how he ever landed that publishing deal or hot girlfriend in the first place, because he’s exactly the sort of vague silhouette of a loveable loser we’ve been fed a dozen times by Hollywood. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t dwell on this stuff for too long before his former brother-in-law runs into him and supplies him with a drug called NZT. NZT, that looks like my dad’s diabetes medication but, once ingested, transforms lazy, demotivated losers so that they’re using 100% of their brain’s ability. Or so the story goes. It doesn’t really matter that this is probably not what 100% of the human mind at full capacity would look like, because the movie isn’t concerned with that. All you need to know is that it makes him smart, gives him an incredible memory, allows him to digest and comprehend information from multiple disciplines with ease, and also makes him charming.
But charm and knowledge isn’t enough. With that stuff comes a newfound desire to declutter his home, his life, his mind and focus on what really matters: money. He finishes his novel in a couple days. He makes new friends. He lays hot women. NZT keeps him moving forward with a daily dose. There’s also the matter of his dealer-in-law getting shot by some dodgy customer who continues to hunt Eddie for the rest of the movie, showing no personality in his bland silent tracking, but that’s all but forgotten for most of the movie.
Then there’s the Russian thug that Morra borrows money from to run his incredible new investment scam. Not a scam, really, but his limitless brain allows Eddie to crunch numbers like never before. In his own words, “math became useful”. He is able to quadruple investments because of how sexy he becomes once he cuts his greasy hair and starts working out, obviously. None of it needs to make sense. We continue to accept every boundary that he crosses because the movie (and Bradley Cooper) is charming, sexy and pretty fun. The visual representation for some of what goes on in our druggie hero’s mind is pretty cool, and you toss in enough wish fulfillment fantasies and you’ve got your audience hooked. Now all you have to do is proceed with the plot. This is where Limitless comes to grips with its own limits. The premise was sound, the players were, mostly, well established and we’ve been asked to buy into a world where this wonder drug turns a shmuck into a champion. Now what? Where’s the conflict? Well, besides the shady guy who’s always following Eddie around without a word, we begin to see the side effects of prolonged drug use. Eddie begins to experience blackouts that condense entire evenings into moments and leave him disorientated. But without the drug, of course, he can’t be charming, interesting or confident. He can’t be smart. He can’t convince Robert De Niro’s generic savvy businessman character that he’s ‘the guy for the job’. The Russian guy comes back. Eddie can’t score more NZT. The movie becomes almost episodic as it tries to cope with the number of conflicts it introduces. Eddie seems rebooted from scene to scene, like he’s back at the start of an episode of his 90s thriller-drama TV show. As he encounters a problem, he comes up with a clever or lucky solution that propels him to exactly the same place he was before then. It’s like he lives in Springfield.
And then what?
The writers, the director, Eddie Morra…none seem to know what. The movie twists, turns, contorts yoga-style to reach a conclusion, but ultimately it can’t quite seem to find one. It takes a clever concept, a charming actor and couple of plot conceits we’re willing to give it, and just sort of goes “Well yeah” with them a few dozen times. Not a bad movie, no, but it seems like, about halfway through their writing of this one, the screenwriters could’ve done with a dose of NZT.
The One-Liner: Bradley Cooper is a loser who takes a drug that makes him not a loser anymore, but also makes his life a series of close shaves that ultimately go nowhere.
The Best: Cooper is charming as hell, no matter what ludicrous thing he’s asked to do. The first half of the movie is full of the sort of wish fulfillment that bloggers sitting at home writing reviews for free will eat up, because they want to drive fast cars, shag supermodels and make lots of money. Also, while not at all interesting, Robert De Niro is less annoying in this movie than he has been in maybe the last 10 years, so go him!
The Worst: The second half of the movie tries to sustain an endless stream of thrilling twists, turns and lucky breaks for our hero, but it quickly becomes obvious that there is no new direction or twist that could lead to any real conclusion for this movie.
Rating: Half Mast