The exciting premise of Limitless opens the door for a plethora of possible film storylines: a man discovers a wonder drug called NZT that allows him to access 100 percent of his brain. He not only becomes an upgraded version of himself, he transforms into the best version of virtually any human. Will he use his power for good? For evil? For love? Director Neil Burger tries to encapsulate all of those themes (and more) into his film, creating an adventure that's entertaining but never quite crosses over into exhilarating.
Bradley Cooper stars as Eddie Morra, a struggling writer whose life is in the toilet. He looks like hell, his apartment is a dump, and his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) just broke up with him. He's skeptical when his former brother-in-law slips him a drug to help him focus on his book, but Eddie quickly changes his mind when he asks himself "how much worse could it get?"
Thus begins a dizzying adventure where NZT becomes Eddie's own personal magic lamp, granting him all the wishes he could possibly ask for. Naturally, it's not all fun and games; he's thrown into a circle of violence and slippery people almost immediately after NZT becomes part of his life. The more Eddie shows off his newly acquired skills, business savvy, and opulence, the bigger the target on his back becomes.
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Limitless is by all means a thriller, but it's also part escapist film. In the midst of watching Eddie skyrocket to the top, part of the fun is imagining what it would be like if a drug like NZT really did exist. Burger plays up this aspect every chance he gets, trying to take the audience on a similar roller coaster ride to the one that Eddie is experiencing. As Eddie writes his novel in hours, words cascade down the screen; when he starts to experience withdrawal, the camera shifts and turns upside down.The visual effects get a bit nauseating, but it's also clear that both Cooper and Burger are having fun, and that the film doesn't take itself too seriously. We even get some comic relief courtesy of Eddie's self-deprecating personality.
In his first role as leading man, Cooper successfully proves that he has what it takes to carry a film on his own. He's backed up by a solid supporting cast in Cornish and Robert DeNiro, but Cooper is Limitless. He brings just the right amount of fear, confidence, and wit to Eddie, and manages to keep the smarmy behavior of "enhanced Eddie" reigned in just enough to keep the audience on his side (those piercing baby blues don't hurt either).
The problem is that there are so many different roads Eddie's story can take, but the film never commits to just one. His new life becomes so bogged down in danger and problems, and the various issues begin to compete for screen time. Eddie's relationship with Lindy is the heart of the film, as she's the only person in his life who knows him for who he actually is, but their scenes together are virtually missing from the film's final act. Between Eddie's dependency on the drug, the realization of the side effects, and issues with his newfound business deals, there are just too many loose ends left to tie up.
Like NZT itself, Limitless is alluring, thought-provoking, and dizzying. But with a tighter script and added intensity, it could have been a more heart-pounding ride.