Now playing at nearly every multiplex in the Raleigh area:
“Limitless” (Dir. Neil Burger, 2011)
“Obviously, I’ve miscalculated a few things” says Bradley Cooper, starring and narrating (as well as co-executive producing), at the beginning of this shiny new thriller that is #1 at the U.S. box office right now.
The film itself miscalculates more than a few things in its haste, but for a considerable chunk of its running time there’s some inventive camera work, and a plethora of intriguing possibilities.
Cooper, despite having a book deal, is a down and out writer living in a crappy New York apartment unable to write a single word. It doesn’t help matters that his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) dumps him, and he’s behind in paying his rent, so when he runs into the slimy Johnny Whitworth, as his ex-brother-in-law, he doesn’t turn down a new drug called NZT that Whitworth says allows him 100 % access to his brain.
NZT completely changes Cooper and almost immediately he finishes his book, learns every language, becomes a financial wizard, gets his girlfriend back, etc. He calls himself “enhanced Eddie.” Unfortunately Whitworth is mysteriously murdered, and there’s a strange man (Tomas Arana billed only as “Man in Tan Coat”) who appears to be following Cooper menacingly.
You don’t have to have read “Flowers For Algernon” or its film adaptation “Charly” to know that Cooper is going to crash and that his world could completely crumble around him. Robert De Niro enters the scene as an intimidating Wall Street mogul who wants to employ Cooper in presumably the film’s bid for a bit of gruff gravitas. A bit of De Niro’s patented indifference is what we get instead.
Some of the movie’s mis-steps after its strong set-up involve a Russian loan shark (Andrew Howard) who gets addicted to the drug himself, a merger in jeopardy with an ailing Richard Bekins who obviously is a victim of the drug as well, and the murder of a woman Cooper slept with during a crazy night he can’t remember.
Cooper, taking a break from his usual roles as an arrogant douche, is an effective leading man and his performance is note perfect even as the material falters. He is destined for much better things, and I’m not talking about “The Hangover Part 2”.
You’ll root for Cooper even in the boring set piece fight finale with Howard’s thugs from central casting – one of the many generic elements that sink this overblown cinematic ship.
There are just too many strands here that don’t add up. Anna Friel as Cooper’s sickly ex-wife shows up for a scene of exposition then is never mentioned again, and the film also forgets Cornish for long stretches.
For all its stylish flourishes (I can definitely say it’s a cool looking movie), the film sure doesn’t use 100 % of its brain.
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