Limitless (**½)

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A great performance by Bradley Cooper helps keep "Limitless" from completely falling apart...

Despite his ascension to A-list status and high profile appearances in “The Hangover” and “The A-Team”, Bradley Cooper has still been waiting for his closeup. Finally, in “Limitless” he gets the chance to open a film with his name “above the title” as they say. Of course, he is also one of the Executive Producers of the film, so in essence Cooper has found a project he thinks will catapult him into the upper echelon of bankable movie stars. Well, if “Limitless” finds an audience, he might be on his way.

Cooper shines in the role of Eddie Morra, a disheveled, depressed and down in the dumps writer, who has not written the first word of his latest book despite nearly spending through his advance. His girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish), has hung in for as long as she can and pulls the plug in a cafe they appear to know all too well. Eddie tries to convince Lindy to stay, but his heart isn’t in it to beg and she doesn’t want the hassle. He loves her but he gets it, and she gets it, and away she goes. In the most random of encounters, Eddie stumbles into, almost literally, his ex-brother-in-law, Vernon (Johnny Whitworth) after not seeing him for years. Vernon, to Eddie’s despair, insists that the two catch up over drinks and into the nearest dive they go.

Eventually, as Eddie confides in Vernon his emptiness and despair, Vernon throws Eddie an irresistible bone. NZT. Vernon, a former drug addict, is a consultant for a pharmaceutical manufacturer and offers Eddie a sample of this new drug that Vernon claims just landed FDA approval and will be on the market within months. Hesitancy cast aside, Eddie takes one pill and pops it just prior to a confrontation with his landlord’s girlfriend. Eddie is out of money, the landlord’s girlfriend is letting him know how terrible he is and then…suddenly…things become clearer – literally. Colors are more vivid, Eddie’s senses are tuned to a higher frequency than ever before and he recognizes an immediate clarity and understanding of, well, everything. Scoring both literally and figuratively after taking the dose, Eddie is hooked and cannot believe how great he feels with this one nearly transparent little pill.

Eddie immediately seeks more and more and more again, but a visit to Vernon’s apartment brings a sudden jolt of reality. Vernon is dead, a fresh bullet wound to the head doing him in as he sits in a trashed apartment. Eddie seizes the opportunity to find and steal all of Vernon’s NZT stash and Eddie believes that life as he knows it, will change forever and for the better.

The film shifts into some tremendous sequences of Cooper wining and dining lady after lady and exuding such natural charisma that Cooper’s Eddie becomes a bit irresistible. Cooper gives an engaging performance and despite essentially being a guy hopelessly hooked on a drug with largely unknown side effects, you cannot help but like the guy and kind of root for him to succeed. And there is plenty to root for here. With 100% functionality of his brain, Eddie becomes unstoppable and makes inroads into the exclusive world of finance. He turns $10 into $2,000. Then $2,000 becomes hundreds of thousands of dollars and in 12 days, he is a multi-millionaire. He is a sudden player and draws the eye of Carl Van Loon (Robert DeNiro), a billionaire tycoon who demands to know who Eddie Morra is
and where he came from. Remarkably, Eddie becomes a consultant to Carl and his successes afford him an influence on Carl’s decision-making. Unfortunately, the carefree and frenetic life Eddie devours on NZT starts to exhibit some startling and unforeseen issues and trouble starts to follow Eddie everywhere he goes and threatens to derail everything.

So let’s take a step back for a moment. A down-on-his-luck writer becomes hooked on a drug that allows him 100% use of his brain functions, makes him irresistible to women and the most fascinating man in the world. He becomes a millionaire in 12 days and has Russian thugs chasing him while he tries to rekindle a romance with the love of his life and consult a billionaire on a potential merger.

Did you get all of that?

And therein lies the blessing and the curse of “Limitless”. Leslie Dixon’s screenplay is a lot of fun, but much like the highs that Eddie Morra experiences on NZT, the story is fleeting, irresponsible, and at times, unsustainable. As “Limitless” dovetails into absurdity, director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) retains a frenetic and fevered energy that makes the film infinitely watchable. Cooper’s performance holds a lot of this together and Burger is there patching the holes as best he can.

Abbie Cornish is fine as Lindy, the girlfriend who drifts in and out of Eddie’s life, and in a poorly written and stock caricature of a know-it-all Wall Street billionaire, Robert DeNiro looks like he is having a good time. Elsewhere, the other performances are largely
unremarkable and I can only imagine if Bradley Cooper wasn’t so great here, how much this film would crumble under its own weight.

“Limitless” has some terrific moments and moments which will make you groan. One subplot in particular involving Eddie and a hookup is an absolute waste of time. But the one thing “Limitless” has going for it is that it is entertaining and never boring. Other films cannot survive the highs and lows that this film delivers, and one could argue that this one does not either. And with that acknowledged, I have to chalk one up for Bradley Cooper and Neil Burger’s talents for holding this thing together just enough to make “Limitless” better than it probably has any right to be.

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My love of film began at the age of 7 when my parents not only gave me a television, but HBO to boot. My first theatrical experience was "E.T." My first movie cry came with "Old Yeller". "The Usual Suspects" made me decide to make movies and film writing a priority in life, even knowing the twist beforehand. My passion for film, music, and pop culture in general can be isolated to my youth. My love for film took root in high school. Above all else, movies and art, in any form, exist to entertain and I remain much more interested in how art affects others, more than with myself. But I love the conversation and to have a chance to share my thoughts and be a part of the community here is a unique and enriching experience.