Film review by: Witney Seibold
Neil Burger‘s “Limitless” is clearly a callow power fantasy for writers and students. It’s about a fellow who discovers a magical new drug that makes him smart and witty and driven, and one that allows him to suddenly be inspired and active enough to actually finish that book he’s been thinking about. As a writer, I can relate to this: how many times have I, or have any of us, felt that we had all the right ideas lurking in our skulls, but were lacking the gumption to actually get our writing assignments done? Don’t you wish you had a magic pill that made you… well, not “high,” but merely focused?
How “Limitless” actually deals with the realization of this fantasy is, sadly, a bit lacking. The hero of our story, general loser Eddie Morra (the bright-eyed sleaze Bradley Cooper) stumbles upon the magical drug NZT, and finds that he can access all his memories, and organize them into cogent thoughts. He finds that he can complete his book, and has the wherewithal to learn new languages, learn the piano, learn complicated mathematics, and recognize patterns in the stock market. He even has the drive to get some exercise, organize his apartment, and get a haircut (although his charming 5 o’clock shadow is always in place), and get back together with his charming and perpetually concerned ex-girlfriend (Abbie Cornish). What does he do with these gifts of manic energy and steel-trap intelligence? Why he does the dumbest things you could imagine.
For one, he takes a loan from violent Russian criminal (Andrew Howard). This is dumb enough, but he also forgets to repay the man when he’s earned back his loan. This seems irresponsible for a man with an ultra-organized mind. He feels that he must use his intelligence for “better things,” but only thinks to go into stock trading. True, he can make millions, but he’s not actually helping anyone with that course of action. Eddie also finds that a mysterious tough guy has been following him, and clearly has a connection to the dead man (Johnny Whitowrth) who gave him the magic drug to begin with. Crippled by paranoia, Eddie begins carrying the drug with him at all times. Like all of it. In a special compartment he has sewn into his jacket. It’s no wonder, then, that his stash is stolen from him the first time he takes off his jacket. Eddie also ends up buying a panic-room-like apartment, reinforced by steel and miles above the New York streets, only to learn later that he gets no phone reception. Wouldn’t a super-smart fellow, who thinks of everything, think to have a land-line installed?
Also, Robert De Niro is in this movie, as the cutthroat shark stock-broker who takes Eddie under his wing. Eddie is seen as a go-getter and as a dandyish wünderkind, and is warned that he has the smarts and the know-how, but not the wisdom or the experience to actually relate to the business. Had Eddie’s hubris actually been a part of his downfall, than “Limitless” would have been a stronger film with a real message. Sadly, the film stays on Eddie’s side the entire time, allows him to takes drugs with few consequences, and all leads to an unintentionally hilarious scene in which he has to slurp drug-infused blood up off the floor.
And, since he gets away with it all (and I don’t think that’s much of a spoiler), “Limitless” turns into one of the most blatantly pro-drug films since “The Faculty” in 1997. Don’t worry kids. You can have all the ups and none of the downs. Sure there are dangerous criminals involved in taking drugs, but you’ll be o.k., provided you have some drugs in your system when they come to get you. Be sure not to run out. Here. Do a line. That Eddie’s powerful stock-borkerish persona looks like a slicked-back 1980s Wall St. cokehead sleaze doesn’t help matters.
I did like the way the film was photographed, though. It was an obvious trick, but I did like how, when Eddie was high, the film’s photography would change. The colors would turns from depressing greys and blues to bright reds and yellows. The lens would open, and the images would become clear and exciting. It did, for brief moments, make the high seem palpable to the audiences.
So I was up-and-down throughout “Limitless.” I enjoyed the fantasy aspects, and was impressed by certain technical tricks, but was turned off by the execution, the story, the main character, and the ultimate sloppy message. If you’re like me, you’ll be giving the film a ton of bad laughs.