Give it to "Limitless" for this: the opening titles sure are dazzling. As the credits flash on the screen, the camera flies at rapid speed through the streets of New York City, the camera in a perpetual zoom mode that brings new meaning to cinematic depth-of-field and gives off the same impression and physical reaction that riding a roller-coaster down its first steep, hulking hill might. It's a trailblazing two minutes of technical innovation proving, once and for all, that an image in two dimensions can be even more immersive, thrilling and lifelike than any 3D movie has exhibited, to date. Case closed. The story's setup proper is kind of intriguing for a while, too, exploring the possibilities involved in what it would conceivably be like for a person to suddenly be given the power to use one hundred percent of their brain. Once the initial novelty of this premise wears off, "Limitless" flounders big time in stupid, overstuffed thriller platitudes, becoming truly off-putting as it sends out an ignorant, morally irresponsible message.
Scruffy, blundering Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) may have a book contract in place, but he's at a practically hopeless loss for words. With a more put-together editor girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish), who has just broken up with him and a serious case of writer's block, he's on the verge of professionally and personally self-destructing. Hope suddenly arrives in the form of Eddie's former brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), who introduces him to a designer pharmaceutical drug that unleashes the full capacities of his mind. To his own amazement, Eddie finishes his book in four days, he becomes fluent in foreign languages almost instantly, and his vast knowledge and newfound charm starts helping him to bed women. When Vernon is found murdered, Eddie finds his stash of pills and runs with them, taking one per day as he gets a makeover and turns into a virtual overnight sensation at a day trading firm. His abilities attract the attention of a business mogul by the name of Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), who welcomes him onboard to help navigate an upcoming corporate merger. All seems to be going well at first, but then the disconcerting side effects of the pills coincide with a murder Eddie begins to question if he might have been responsible for. Adding fuel to the fire, some Russian goons come knocking, in search of his radically dwindling drug supply.
Having not read the novel on which "Limitless" is based ("The Dark Fields" by Alan Glynn), it can't be said how close this adaptation follows it. As a film, though, it's a dreary, sloppy mess, as emotionally detached as Eddie is out of touch with the world around him. Indeed, as much as he excels on an intellectual and social level, he never really learns anything about himself, about his life, or about the mess he makes out of his addiction. There are repercussions from this latter facthe fears that he will go brain-dead altogether if he doesn't get his fix, and his life is threatened by people stalking him from all directionsbut they are treated by director Neil Burger (2006's "The Illusionist
") and screenwriter Leslie Dixon (2007's "The Heartbreak Kid
") as negligible asides to the bigger message that it's perfectly okay to be chemically dependent as long as you're making a lot of money and sleeping with a lot of chicks. Eddie never has a moment of clarity where he thinks twice about the decisions he's made. Realizing that what he is doing is basically a crime against nature is out of the question. Because of all this, he's not much of a protagonistat least, not one worth following for 105 minutes.
There are certain actors who you can just look at and instantly fall in love with. Tom Hanks is one. Drew Barrymore is another. Bradley Cooper (2010's "The A-Team
") is not. He's handsome in a well-chiseled frat boy sort of way, but he has to really work to be likable. He may be a wonderfully nice person, but he looks cold, pompous, unsympathetic. He can't help his face or the smirk on it that comes natural, but he can help starring in bad movies like this one that do him no favors. Cooper is a passable lead as Edward Morra, but when the viewer is supposed to side with someone who lacks a definable arc and comes off in a lot of ways as despicable, it might have helped had a more endearing performer been cast. As love interest Lindy, who comes back into Eddie's life after he gets a haircut and a sleeker wardrobe, Charlize Theron doppleganger Abbie Cornish (2008's "Stop-Loss
") is given nothing to do with a character who in many ways is just as shallow as Eddie. Director Neil Burger must have been utterly disinterested in this subplot so underutilized is it. Cornish and Cooper have no chemistry, either, but they're not helped by a script that doesn't even bother to try and develop their relationship. As for Robert De Niro (2010's "Little Fockers
"), he is given an above-the-title credit for what is a peripheral figure who shows up four or five times, utters a couple lines, and exits. He looks defeated onscreen, as if he knew there wasn't anything he could do with his empty character and lost the will to try.
After Eddie pops his first literal brain candy, the austere, overcast, blueish tint of the photography in "Limitless" transforms into a brighter orange hue. Like the sun popping out from behind the clouds, the movie grows visually more vibrant, yet is otherwise stuck in a dull slog of weak characterizations, hampered plotting, and a script that doesn't have anything worthwhile to say. Sketchy attempts at actiona chase through Central Park, a fight to the death in Eddie's high-rise condoare interspersed between long sections that play like a wannabe "Wall Street
" by way of "Requiem for a Dream" had that pitch-black Darren Aronofsky cautionary tale portrayed its drug-addled ensemble as getting by just fine hopped up on crack and diet pills, thank you very much. Instead of rubbing off on audiences, the mind-centric "Limitless" achieves the exact opposite effect: it is all but forgotten hours after seeing it.