Monday, March 21, 2011

Movie Review: Limitless

Limitless ** ½
Directed by:
Neil Burger.
Written by: Leslie Dixon based on the novel by Alan Glynn.
Starring: Bradley Cooper (Eddie Morra), Robert De Niro (Carl Van Loon), Abbie Cornish (Lindy), Andrew Howard (Gennady), Anna Friel (Melissa), Johnny Whitworth (Vernon).

We have been told for years now that human beings only use about 20% of their brain power. The rest of it remains inaccessible to us. But what if there was a pill that allowed you to increase that brain power, so that you can use that 100%? Would you take it? How could you not. That is what Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is facing in Limitless, a thriller with an intriguing idea, that never quite pulls it all together. He is a failed novelist, living one step above homelessness in New York, whose girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) has left him, and really as nothing going on in his life. But then an old acquaintance comes to him, and tells him he has this new pill, FDA approved, just waiting to go on the market which will help him access all that hidden brain power. He even gives him a free sample. The difference is immediate – he finishes his novel, but quickly sees that writing is only the tip of the iceberg of what he can do on the pills. He goes back to his friend, finds him murdered in his apartment – but also finds his huge stash of the new pills. It isn’t long before Eddie is making millions on the stock market, and starting to draw the attention of the big guys. But the drug has side effects, and they are getting worse.

Limitless has an intriguing idea for a movie, but forces it into a thriller plot that never really works. It seems to me that much of its running time is involved with setting up the story – and then just as things are starting to get interesting, the filmmakers decide they need to end the movie, and dive headlong into the closing action of the film, full of chase sequences, violence, and murder. That it is all wrapped up in an intriguing package by director Neil Burger (The Illusionist, the Edward Norton movie, not the animated French film), is really beside the point.

Perhaps the problem is with Bradley Cooper in the lead role. Cooper is an actor that I feel is in danger of becoming the next Matthew McConaughey (who was excellent in The Lincoln Lawyer this week, but really, that is the only decent work he has done in years). Cooper coasts on his charm and good looks, but never really gets under the skin of his characters. Early in the film, with long, stringy hair, Cooper is wholly unconvincing as a down on his luck loser. He just doesn’t have those notes in him. When he starts taking the drugs, and transforms himself, he is much better – but it remains a performance that is nearly skin deep. I never really liked Eddie Morra that much, because I think Cooper doesn’t make us like him, so I didn’t much care about his plight.

The supporting cast doesn’t help much either. I know that I am one of the only people in the world who thought that Robert DeNiro is brilliant in Stone last year, but I really do, and I hoped that the film might have signaled that DeNiro was going to start doing real roles again for the first time in years. But Limitless is much like most of his work in the last decade. He plays a Wall Street bigwig, but doesn’t really bring much to the role. Part of it is that his role is completely underwritten – there is very little to play here for DeNiro – but part of it is that DeNiro is simply going through the motions once again. Abbie Cornish is one of the most beautiful women in the world, as she has proven in films like Candy, Stop Loss and Bright Star that she has real acting talent – but here, much like DeNiro, she is not given much of a role to play, and simply seems to be going through the motions.

I’ve probably made Limitless sound a lot worse than it actually is. No, it’s not a good movie, but it is fairly intriguing and entertaining for much of its running time. It’s just that I kept thinking that the film was building to something more than it ever actually does. It has a fine premise behind it, but the filmmakers are content to do something wholly uninteresting with it. Too bad.

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