Review: LIMITLESS (2011) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Review: LIMITLESS (2011)


What if a pill could make you rich and powerful? That is an intriguing tagline appeared in the poster for Neil Burger's new movie called LIMITLESS.

Based on a novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn, the movie centers on Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), a struggling writer who's been living like hell. Although he have a book contract in place, he is yet to write a single word. Even the advance he's been given is already dried up. Then his girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish) dumps him for being aimless in life. If that's not bad enough, he bumps into a person he doesn't want to meet -- his ex-brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth). However, their unexpected encounter turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Vernon, who is actually a shady drug dealer, buys him a drink and offers him a new pill. The pill is crystal clear, and it called NZT. Vernon explains that NZT is a super-drug of sorts capable to unlock a person's full capability one hundred percent. At first Eddie is reluctant to take such pill with no proven FDA yet, but he gives it a shot anyway. Next thing he knows, the pill instantly makes him smarter and more observant than ever. After he realizes his newfound potential, he manages to finish his novel in one day. The publisher loves it very much, and now he wants more of that pill. So he looks for Vernon, but discovers he has been killed. The good news is, he manages to find the stash of NZT hidden inside the oven. With NZT in his hand, he starts to turn his life around. Instead of pursuing his writing career, he wants to do something more ambitious -- trading. Taking NZT per day, he quickly make a killing at a day trading firm. His abilities soon attract the attention of a business mogul named Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), who can't wait to see what he really can do to impress him. All this goes pretty well for Eddie, until the pill begins to show some side effects. He becomes disoriented and sometimes he doesn't realize what he's been up to. And the only thing he can stop the pain is to pop another pill. Then there's some ruthless Russian gangsters from different side (Andrew Howard, Tomas Arana) trying to hunt him down for the pill.

No doubt the setup itself makes a killer premise. For the first hour of the movie, Leslie Dixon's adapted screenplay is playful enough it's so compulsively watchable. Together with quirky direction by Neil Burger, it's certainly fun watching Eddie rapidly master new skills -- whether enticing the crowd with his encyclopedic knowledge; learning foreign languages and piano lesson; making lots of money in the stock market, or seducing his landlord's Asian girlfriend.

Burger, in the meantime, is a wizard in visual trickery. And here, he delivers them in spade. The opening scene alone is a dazzling highlight as the credits flash on the screen while the camera zooming in at rapid speed through the streets of New York City. There's more: When Eddie is typing in his laptop, letters fall from the ceiling like snow; multiple Eddies are seen performing household tasks; and a series of split-second zoom effects whenever Eddie begins to feel disoriented.

Bradley Cooper (a role originally given to Shia LaBeouf but dropped out due to car accident), in his first real test in a solo lead role, delivers a solidly entertaining performance. He's certainly a charmer and even holds his own with Robert De Niro, who is in turn, has his few knockout moments as well (particularly in the final confrontation). Andrew Howard's Russian gangster act is fun to watch for, but it's pity to see Abbie Cornish is relegated into an empty girlfriend role. What a waste of opportunity to see Cooper and Cornish's chemistry suffered dearly.

As enjoyable as the movie is, LIMITLESS does suffer from lack of heart. A movie like this is bound to be a cautionary tale of sorts, but Cooper's entertaining character is an emotionally detached and unsympathetic being there's little morality behind all the circumstances. This is where Burger and Dixon fail to make him as well as the overall story element a little more meaningful. Then there's the sudden shift into paranoid thriller-territory in which it's more standard-issue than something inspiring. The second half is especially haphazard here.

It's hardly a first-rate thriller that could have been a masterpiece, but LIMITLESS remains good enough to watch for.

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