In theory Limitless is a movie about what would happen if you took a pill which made you smarter, but, think about the smartest people youíve ever known. In my experience true genius comes at the expense of things like fashion sense or charisma. When someone says the word genius, the uncombed, rumpled visage of Albert Einstein probably pops into your head. Neil Burgerís movie, though, has something else in mind. In this imagined version of intelligence, if only Albert Einstein had been smarter heíd have done something about that unruly mustache. In the world of Limitless true genius is The Fonz, wearing leather jackets, riding around on motorcycles, and getting whatever he wants out of life by simply being cooler than everyone else.
Thatís what happens to Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) when he takes a mysterious, experimental drug called NZT. Itís supposed to make him smarter, and it does; but more crucially, suddenly this scruffy, struggling writer develops an affinity for custom-made suits, an obsession with cleanliness, and a talent for procuring fast sports cars which he uses to pick up beautiful women. That NZT also enables him to instantly understand and use complex math or learn any language is almost a footnote in this tale of how being smarter can make you cooler than everyone else. Think of this movie like the anti-Social Network. In that film David Fincher told the story of how genius and ambition often leaves people cut off from the world, out of step with society, and alone. If Neil Berger had made The Social Network it would have started not with Mark Zuckerberg being dumped by his girlfriend for being oblivious to her feelings, but being hit on by super models because heís so smart he knows how to dress better than everyone around him.
So enjoying Limitless requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but maybe you knew that going in. The filmís trailers make it clear that this entire story is based on the idea that we only use 20% of our brain, a frequently circulated rumor with no more basis in scientific fact than Jurassic Parkís notion of extracting dinosaur DNA from insects encased in amber. But then, Jurassic Parkís velociraptors didnít hatch out of their eggs sporting five-hundred dollar haircuts. Somehow that made them more believable. This is not a movie for anyone who has ever read ďFlowers for AlgernonĒ.
The thing is, Limitless really wastes its premise by mostly ignoring all the consequences of being zapped from slightly above average to four-digit IQ. The intelligence thing is a total footnote. Instead, itís kind of a standard drug movie. Bradley Cooperís character has them, everyone else wants them, and he has to find a way out of this predicament. He doesnít think his way out of it exactly, actually he doesnít bother to think about how to solve his problems much at all. Like all smart people he just sort of goes with it (sarcasm indicated). The best the smartest man in the world can come up with is to hire a few bodyguards. Professor Moriarty this guy isnít, though he does seem to know how to fight like Robert Downey Jr.ís Sherlock Holmes .
Limitless spends almost no time really delving into the massively raised IQ of Bradley Cooper, however it does use his increased brainpower as an excuse to engage in a sort of kinetic, visual trickery. Burgerís movie has a real eye for bright colors and strange warping effects which do more to keep you interested in whatís happening than in anything this story has going.
Not that thereís much of a story. Far too much of the film boils down to a series of disconnected viginettes which wouldnít actually make any sense if Bradley Cooper wasnít there to literally narrate every single second of the movie. Iím a big fan of voiceover narration, if youíre making film noir, but this isnít Double Indemnity, itís a drug movie. Itís a drug movie without a well-thought out story, so it cheats by having Bradley Cooper explain everything as it goes along.
In spite of all this, somehow I didnít hate the time I spent with Limitless. Bradley Cooper remains a fascinating leading man. Heís easy to watch, even though letís face it, heís pretty much just playing Bradley Cooper. A lot of the credit for how watchable this throwaway film is, probably has to go to Burger, who makes those disconnected scenes feel as though theyíre filled with a raw kind of energy, very like synapses firing in a brain pepped up on smart pills. Limitless isnít smart, but it looks smart, and maybe thatís enough to get empty enjoyment out of it. Itís like watching The Fonz get free songs by punching a jukebox, and that never stops being fun.
Reviewed By: Josh Tyler