“Limitless” may be the worst anti-drug film in cinematic history. For protagonist Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), the benefits of using ultimately outweigh the negative consequences in almost every conceivable way.
If one casts morals and messages aside, however, director Neil Burgerand screenwriter Leslie Dixon’s stylish, pulse-quickening adaptation of Alan Glynn’s novel “The Dark Fields” becomes a kinetic, wish-fulfillment techno-thriller that plays like a more generalized and accessible version of David Fincher’s “Fight Club.”
Viewers will not be forced to dissect man’s condition in a consumer-driven world so much as watch Eddie get the girls, the high-paying gig and struggle for the power in his grasp thanks to a batch of stolen pills.
For those familiar with Bradley Cooper, who is adept at playing smarmy (“The Hangover”) and cocky (“Wedding Crashers”) characters straddling the fence between charming and sleazy, his portrayal of Eddie is, at the outset, slightly unconvincing.
Eddie is a long-haired, disheveled New York writer drinking his book advance money away while caving to writer’s block, a characterization at odds with the actor’s strengths.
By the time his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish, who looks like a Nicole Kidman/Charlize Theron hybrid) leaves him and his slacker ways, all involved with the film seem to breathe a welcome sigh of relief: Now that 10 minutes of backstory is done, the film implies, let’s give this man some drugs and make him and the story more interesting.
Enter divorcé Eddie’s ex-brother-in-law, Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), a drug dealer who may have the cure-all drug, NZT-48, that may or may not (it does not) have FDA approval.
It allows the user to access all of his brain functions, including the total recall and processing of anything he has ever experienced in life. It is the cure-all for Eddie’s ills, and after he finds Vernon shot dead in his apartment, Eddie finds his stash and takes the drugs. Mr. Cooper takes the reigns and is ceaselessly impressive from this point on.
“I wasn’t high … wasn’t wired,” Eddie narrates. “I was just clear.”
Eddie cranks out his book in four days, beds countless women, parties across the globe, and, like the Dos Equis guy, his intelligence makes him “the most interesting man in the world.”
Dissatisfied with the nominal monetary gains of writing (no comment), he studies the stock market, invents an algorithm and, voila, is branded a whiz and is set for a meeting with energy mogul Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro – game but without much to do here).
Big-stakes mergers, shadowy companies and assassins come into play in an endlessly unfolding plot, not to mention Eddie’s severe withdrawal and the glossed-over fact that he may have killed a woman while under the influence. However, Eddie’s wry, tongue-in-cheek narration never allows us to take the events too seriously, even with the violence amped up toward the end.
“Limitless” is best enjoyed with a smirk on your face, sipping a four-dollar Cherry Coke and disregarding questions such as, if Eddie has a limitless memory, why does he forget to pay back a $100,000 loan to a Russian mobster after he has made 2 million bucks in the stock market in mere days? Because it leads to more action if he does not, that’s why.
The “Fight Club” narrative and story-structure echoes (the revisited beginning being the most obvious) are enjoyable; so are the sometimes silly, sometimes intense foot chases; the dizzying camera zooms and visual trickery; and the hackneyed story thrust forward by steely blue-eyed but never too intense Bradley Cooper.
The film’s message seems to be “Enjoy your Cherry Coke and your drugs.”