Friday, April 1, 2011


Spoiler alert-o-meter: Nothing that you haven't seen in the trailer.

Limitless concerns the simple story of a simple writer, Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), who, faced with a book deal deadline and no manuscript, accepts a free pill from a distant acquaintance who promises it will help him access 100% of his brain instead of the usual 20%. The pill works quickly. The first thing Eddie accomplishes is bedding his landlady. Next he cleans his apartment. Then he bears down and writes the first few chapters of his book within a day. This has his agent drooling for more. Problem is, he only had the one pill and after its effects dry up, so does his creative mojo.

He goes back to see his acquaintance. While out running an errand for him, the acquaintance is killed .The funny thing about these crazy pills is that after trying only one everybody needs a big stash of them by any means necessary. Eddie finds the body and, after calling 911, locates the rest of the pills and a convenient wad of cash. Cleared of any wrongdoing by the cops, he goes back to his little apartment and finishes his novel in four days.

With his novel done, he’s bored with writing (the bastard, I guess he was never a real writer to begin with) and decides he wants to use his brain in new and exciting ways. In dizzying succession he learns how to play the market, make some money, and position himself to make more. He finds new friends, and flies around the world to have dinner in any country he wants. He buys a great car and dates hot women of his dreams. He’s charming and outgoing and well groomed. He’s everything he could never be when he was just a slacker, drinking too much and slamming his soused noggin against the unresponsive keyboard.

He’s having such a good time, that he barely notices some shady-looking dude following him. Then there’s a Russian mafia guy he borrowed seed money from to start his money-making venture. That guy wants his money back. Hey, no problem. But after the Russian steals and ingests one of Eddie's last pills, he wants more than just his money. He wants more pills.

The plot, as I say, is pretty simple. But the filmmakers move you smoothly through Eddie's world, throwing curves into the story that you don’t always expect. Also, if you’ve seen the trailer, you may think you know the story already. But don’t be fooled. This is one movie that after the first hour moves beyond whatever the trailer leads you to believe happens, shifting gears and running serpentine through the second hour. The ending (at least for me) came as a pleasant surprise.

Throughout, the camera moves with a sometimes fluid, sometimes manic energy that drops you into Eddie's brain when he’s dosed (for lack of a better term—Eddie is, after all, taking drugs throughout the entire movie). When he takes a pill the world becomes more colorful. He sees mundane details close up as if for the first time—door knobs, the beautiful face of his young Asian landlady, the objects in her handbag, the shade of her fingernails, the logical trajectory of events just before they happen. 

When he runs out of pills, as we know he eventually must, we see his world fall back into muddy browns and reds. In a taut scene, his girlfriend, trapped by the aforementioned shady-looking dude in Central Park because she happens to be carrying the pills, takes one so she can focus better and figure out how best to get away. This gives the filmmakers a chance to show how the pill works on somebody else (she runs fast, charts her next moves lightning fast, and uses a child's ice skate blade as a weapon).

The pill is, of course, a hyper-strong variation of medication that has been on the market for decades. Ritalin, Adderall, Dexidrine. All designed to help people with ADD or ADHD focus better. Some people without these symptoms take these so-called smart drugs to not just help them focus, but to feel euphoria and control social anxiety. Students at highly competitive schools may take these meds to cram for exams or write a paper.

But none of these medications is mentioned in the movie. And while we see Eddie withdraw from the effects of the pill after he stops taking it, we don’t really see the kind of rapid decline that a true drug addict might experience going cold turkey. Oh, did I mention how, when you stop taking the pill, you end up a former shell of yourself, or dead? There is a plot twist which takes care of this last detail a little too cleanly. But this is a movie, and it needs to get wrapped up at the end of two hours.

Robert DeNiro shows up as the big wig at a big company that hires Eddie as a consultant to help him with an upcoming merger. It’s fun to watch Eddie outthink and outmaneuver his way to, if not the top, then a comfortable position where he can take care of himself and his girlfriend for the rest of his life. While making money seems to be the only thing he wants to accomplish, the finale reveals he wants to use his powers of perception for good, instead of being just another smart guy who makes money off the backs of people who aren’t as quick.

At times Limitless plays like a long episode of the Twilight Zone. Other times it's like watching a male fantasy come to life—what young male wouldn’t want to date beautiful women, drive fast cars, and access their memories to incorporate the most arcane knowledge they don’t even remember learning into a spry, disarming conversation? Oh, and look like Bradley Cooper, if that’s your thing. It's like Spike TV with an MBA. In a good way.


Theater location: Lowell Showcase, Tuesday night bargain show, March 29, 7:40. Price $6.00. Viewed with Liz. Snack-Fresh sliced apple.

Coming Attractions:

Insidious. Horror movie from the director of Saw and the producer of Paranormal Activity. Looks like a ghost story. Or a kid-possessed-by-devil story. Or both! Out today.

Apollo 18. What really happened on this moon landing (scary stuff) and why we never went back (boo!).

Arthur. Remake. No Dudley Moore. No Liza. Just Russell Brand and Helen Mirren. Too bad...wait what? Helen Mirren? Color me there.

Hannah. Some girl is raised as some kind super, hyper, special human. Is she bionic? Is she just pissed off. You decide.

Source Code. Jake Gyllenhaal has to relive the same eight minutes on a train to figure out who blew it up (hey, I didn't write it). Each time he goes back in, he falls a little more for a young woman, played by Michelle Monaghan, until he's determined to save her from dying in the inevitable train explosion. Out today.

Thor. Third movie with a name for a title. Now in 3-D! Marvel Comics' Thor gets the big-budget treatment. With Chris Hemsworth as the titular hero, along with Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, and Anthony Hopkins. Not out yet.


Cynthia Sherrick said...

As always you offer an insightful, fascinating glimpse into a film and its reasons for being. :)

This sounds like a good one to see.

Dell Smith said...

Why, thank you very much. I think you'd like it. I'm behind in my reviews. Stay tuned. Watch this space.

morgana said...

j'ai vu le film hier