Neil Burger’s Limitless explores what would happen if there was a drug that could unlock 100 percent of our brain capacity. How would we interact? What would the side effects be? And how many hot babes could we land?
Burger, director of 2006’s The Illusionist, tosses in a fair bit of style here. There are CGI-enhanced zoom shots, little graphic additions to signify falling number or letters, X-ray visuals, and so on. This is all to deliver the sort of “high” that a drug-themed tale requires, but sadly the energy level never really gets off the ground and things kind of drag. Events never get weird or wild enough and Limitless becomes a sort of Wall Street-ish drama with just a few more thugs.
Bradley Cooper stars as Eddie Morra, a dishevelled writer with severe writer’s block. Living the life of a glorified bum, Eddie’s girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) leaves him. Worse, he runs into the brother (Johnny Whitworth) of his ex-wife (Anna Friel). Eddie winds up taking a new drug given to him by his ex-wife’s bro and soon unlocks the mysteries of NZT-48, a narcotic that unlocks all of his mental capacity. Suddenly the writer’s block is gone and things are going well. His girlfriend even comes back.
But like all people who can use 100 percent of their brain capacity, Eddie gets bored with merely writing. He decides to trade stocks and, in order to finance his endeavour, makes the brainy decision of borrowing from the Russian mob. Eddie gets employed by a powerful businessman (Robert De Niro) and uses the NZT to generate success.
Limitless is based on the 2001 book The Dark Fields by Irish author Alan Glynn. The film spins things as a rags-to-riches sort of tale, giving us a worn-out Cooper prior to using NZT and a clean-cut, sleek Cooper after he uses. This naturally prepares him for a life in the world of high-risk finance. The downsides are remarkably tolerable, at least from the way Burger films them. A little bit of vomiting and a lost 18-hour period in which a murder may or may not have taken place doesn’t actually seem so bad.
Along with presenting very little by way of risk, Limitless underuses its performers to a criminal degree. For a flick about human potential, the potential of actors like De Niro and Cornish is left elsewhere. De Niro phones it in and is given no reason not to, playing a serious character without even so much as a tick. A little eccentricity would have helped provide some dimension, but things are just too straight for that.
Even with the NZT, Eddie’s not that bright. Going to mobsters for money to launch a stock venture isn’t particularly the greatest of idea, but I suppose the drug doesn’t do much to aid common sense. Perhaps that’s a statement to suggest that we are already using as much of our common sense as possible; any enhancements to our mental capacity, then, are relegated to memory. Indeed, that seems to be what Limitless is really about. Eddie recalls a pile of useful thoughts and facts here and there, lining his ideas with stuff he’s stockpiled. Critical thinking is not his friend.
So is Eddie really as limitless as the title would have it? No. But the movie has it seem that way, providing an ending that is unsatisfying and clichéd and disturbingly happy. There are no real lessons and there are no real costs, either, providing a film that gets in and gets out without presenting any challenges or experiences worth remembering.
The standard DVD version of Limitless features a theatrical version and an extended version. There is also an alternate ending and a couple of features that offer minimal “Making Of” insight. An audio commentary with the director is actually the most interesting of the bonus features.