Limitless (review)

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Brain Underpowered

Slacker writer gets handed a pill that amps him up. Not in an intoxicated way. In a best-person-he-can-be, using-100-percent-of-his-brain sort of way. You’ve seen the trailer: He writes his novel — which turns out genius — in four days. He’s driven to do situps. Hell, his eyes even get bluer: this is the best Bradley Cooper Bradley Cooper can be. “I wasn’t high, I wasn’t wired, just clear,” he says. “I knew what I needed to do and I knew how to do it.”
It’s total utter complete fantasy of the best stripe, and just the kind that plugs into an ambitious but procrastinating brain. What if I could write my novel and make a million on the stock market and learn Japanese without even breaking a sweat? What else would I do?

The what-if, as it turns out, is not all that, so much. Limitless clearly was not written by someone taking this best-you-can-be pill. It’s what Cooper’s Eddie Morra might have written before the pill, if he’d ever gotten his act together: It’s not awful. It’s passably entertaining. But it thinks it’s taking risks yet never goes out on any ledges. It offers up some potentially interesting ideas about the nature of human ambition and the limits of talent but doesn’t take them anywhere near far enough. There’s no genuine extrapolation beyond the most basic level of the premise — what if a simple pill could give your brain a mega tuneup — and more than a little man-was-not-meant-to-meddle pabulum. *yawn*

We’ve seen Charly. We know this cannot end well even before we walk into the theater. And the script — by Leslie Dixon (The Heartbreak Kid, Hairspray), based on Alan Glynn’s novel The Dark Fields [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] — seems to mess with us as the film opens by, speaking of ledges, giving us Eddie about to jump off a building as someone is banging murderously on a door behind him. And then we flash back to before the beginning, when Eddie was still a slacker slob, just before the pill showed up in his life: Yup, things really didn’t go well, we now know for certain. But there’s gotta be more than that, right?

Eh. Not really. Director Neil Burger (Interview with the Assassin, The Illusionist) may have taken a best-you-can-be pill: there’s some original style here, some startling visuals that replicate Eddie’s amplified perception of the world. (The long zoom along New York City’s streets and sidewalks — we go through cars, in the back window and out the front windshield, without stopping anywhere along the way — is pretty darn amazing.) Cooper (The A-Team, Valentine’s Day) is appealing enough to make you not realize till much later that he cannot possibly have been as bright as he’s supposed to be even without the pill: How could he have bought that nonsense about the pill having gone through clinical trials and being FDA approved? (And hey, how did he get a book contract, anyway? Losers with no track record don’t get that.)

Something essential is missing from Limitless, something that would make it truly sing as fantasy, as science fiction, as action, as drama. Eddie, responding to an accusation, says: “I don’t have delusions of grandeur, I have an actual recipe for grandeur.” But we never really feel that grandeur. Unless the film has cleverly embedded its own way of letting us feel what amped-up Eddie feels. Limitless is limited in how entertaining it is because we can see everything coming, as if we’re already on that magic pill ourselves.

If that’s the film’s trick, though, it just reduces the fantasy of it all to something a helluva lot less sexy than it should be.

Watch Limitless online using LOVEFiLM’s streaming service.

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Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
Mon, Aug 10, 2015 10:50pm

They’re actually making a TV series based on this movie. It stars Jennifer Carpenter of Dexter fame and er–some other person I did not recognize.

I don’t know if it will be an improvement on the original movie the same way Buffy the Vampire Slayer was but I do find it odd that they considered this movie worthy to inspire an entire TV show.

Then again, I’m more psyched about Supergirl than anything else coming out on the small screen this fall.