Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a failing writer with no haircut, who lives in a tiny apartment but has a hot girlfriend, Lindy (Abby Cornish), for like a minute, before she, too, gives up on him. It seems Morra has been a failure for a while. He was previously married and that had also fallen apart. In some movies, Morra would be having a run of bad luck. In Limitless, Morra is unmotivated and knows it. We know it, because Morra is narrating.
Down and out, one day Morra runs into his ex-brother-in-law (Johnny Whitworth), who happens to introduce Morra to NZT, a pharmaceutical that helps people to access all of their brain, rather than the expected 20%. The drug works well. Morra writes the novel he has barely started in less than a week. He borrows some petty cash from low-life criminal, Gennady (Andrew Howard), and turns it into a stock market-made fortune in a matter of weeks. He even gets Lindy back.
Then Morra begins to mess with the doses of NZT he is taking daily. He starts skipping. First, he goes for a walk and ends up in a subway fight. Then he sees himself in various social situations with various women. Sometime later, he slows down enough to find himself on a bridge in the middle of an unknown neighborhood.
He can’t slow down. He starts missing things, causing himself some problems. NZT is fast, but confusing. Morra forgets to show up when he’s supposed to sometimes, and shows up unexpectedly elsewhere. His life begins reading like a complicated, unworkable math problem:
a) If Eddie has 140 pills and his moneylender wants a three-month supply, is it more of a cost to kill the drug dealer or to open a lab to begin creating your own NZT? b) If Eddie needs to be sealing a deal for Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), the Wall Street mogul he’s been working under, all while getting his girlfriend Lindy away from a crazy man with a knife, all while standing in a lineup for the police as a murder suspect, what order of operations does life provide to solve this problem?
The answer to b) is none, because Limitless doesn’t even provide us with a satisfactory answer. The whole story is too fast and too unfocused. Viewers can’t stop moving for one second. Morra is human and Morra is limitless. Director Neil Burger assumes his audience wants to be limitless, too. Ironically, he’s always dumbing down the ideas he’s created by constantly telling his audience something through Morra’s narration, rather than just showing us. He has a whole beautiful screen he could toss dialogue and movement and sound effects onto, and he spends a hell of a lot of time wasting that in favor of Morra yapping at us. Just because an audience may not like to move so quickly doesn’t mean we aren’t capable of keeping up.
Stylistically, Burger spends his time peppering Limitless with interesting shots of neurons working and pills being swallowed and absorbed into human tissue. Morra takes a drug and neon words rain down on him as he works on his book. Where NZT is concerned, Burger seems to be having a great time. It just doesn’t all fit together.
Limitless is a bunch of half-written stories about the same man in the same time period in his life. Some of the moments work well, and some of them totally miss the boat. It wouldn’t have taken much to tweak Limitless into a more passable film, and it would have taken even less to tweak Limitless into a more entertaining one. As it stands, there are too few working ideas and little focus. The effect of Limitless is the exact opposite of the drug that builds up its plot.
There’s a nice little feature where you can slide between the theatrical version and the unrated extended version in the extras bar. I watched the theatrical version and enough of the unrated version to know there wasn’t nearly enough difference between the two to warrant both “extended” and “unrated” on the front of the box. Still, love that slide-y feature.
“Man Without Limits” is the first addition. It’s about Bradley Cooper, his capabilities and range as an actor, and what transformations his character goes through in Limitless. I couldn’t work it into the review, but if you’re still with me, Cooper is great. He’s completely invested, subtle when he needs to be, and at other times the Bradley Cooper we know. Easily the best part of the movie.
The second featurette is a “Making of” bit, where the crew discusses how filming was challenging. This bit enhances the information on a lot of the different camera shots, so if you were interested in that aspect, it’ll be a good watch.
The final extras include an alternate ending and a theatrical trailer. Regarding the alternate ending, most of the segment is a play-by-play of what we got in the film, with an added twist. Overall, not too shabby, and none of the special features are arduous.