At the beginning of Rango, a few owls kicking around in mariachi gear and wielding instruments start singing laments to our lizardy hero, who, they declare, will inevitably die. It’s a bit confronting for a kids movie, and just to go off on a small and not really movie-ruining spoiler, isn’t true: by the end, they confess they meant it in the we’ll-all-die-eventually kind of way. At the beginning of Limitless, Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is standing in a dapper suit on the edge of a building’s balcony about to fling himself off and pondering what happened to get him to this point. And then we go back to the start of the story and, in a small but not really movie-ruining spoiler, when we get back to him on the edge of his balcony, he changes his mind—it’s not the end of the movie at that point and there’s still plenty of danger to follow, in case you were wondering. But honestly, what is it with movies at the moment where they feel the need to signpost the fact that there is a threat to the main character? Of course there is going to be some kind of drama, that is the whole point of films. But all these flicks where we’re supposed to assume the main character dies, only to have them not actually be dead—it’s frustrating. No, of course I didn’t want Rango to die. (Note I am less vehement about Bradley Cooper.) But just stop it, film industry, okay? We’re perfectly capable of sitting through the start of a movie knowing there’s action to come, and we don’t need it pointed out. That’s what ads are for and frankly, we’ve already paid for our tickets at that point, haven’t we?
With that rant over, now to get into Limitless proper. If you’ve ever heard the old trope about how we only use 20% of our brain and the other 80% is just lying around letting us knock over glasses of water because we’re uncoordinated, this plotline may be of interest. Struggling writer Eddie is moping about with no motivation and a ponytail (that’s how you know he’s downtrodden, apaprently), and has been dumped by his straightlaced girlfriend Lindy (soon to be Sucker Punched Abbie Cornish). At this low point, he meets up with his ex-brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), who used to deal drugs in his past and has now come up in the world, so to speak—the drugs he now peddles are worth $800 a pop. Against his better judgement, he accepts a single pill from Vernon—and suddenly that other 80% of his brain is firing on all cylinders. And one pill—you’ll be shocked at this—just ain’t enough. Despite the minor blip in the radar that is Vernon turning up in the next scene with a bullet to the head, Eddie secures a stack of pills and then becomes a kind of SuperEddie, all-round genius, social networker, lady puller and stockmarket genius—all of which happens, obviously, only after he loses the ponytail and gets a nice suave haircut. But such a fabulous drug doesn’t come without its consequences, and along with a loan shark and a creepy stalker, the awesome solution starts to screw with his sanity.
Limitless is actually pretty good. What couldn’t be entertaining about seeing someone know everything, learn languages in hours, take over the stockmarket and have photographic recall of everything in his past that he has ever seen, even briefly? It taps into everyone’s dream of what you could achieve if all your brainspace wasn’t taken up by useless facts like Hey There’s That Guy From The Bourne Supremacy etc.
Bradley Cooper, king of Alpha Male roles, barely convinces at the start when Eddie is a slouchy deadbeat, but (gasp) does wonderfully as a smooth operator when high, and then alarms completely with his third haircut. Abbie Cornish is fairly restrained as Eddie’s staid love interest, but it makes for a convincing and interesting scene later on when she refuses the drug despite knowing what it could do for her. Robert De Niro turns up as finance wrangler Carl Van Loon, keen on Eddie’s newfound stock knowledge and his insight on a merger with another company. Rounding out the major players is professional lowered brow Andrew Howard as Gennady, the man who lent Eddie a hundred grand when he was starting out and now wants in on the altered reality.
It’s exciting, every new situation doused in a hearty amount of pop culture—see Eddie’s fight scene, his talents gathered from television and Bruce Lee flicks—and pretty non-stop entertainment-wise. As the scope of the drug’s hold becomes clear, and the unnerving problems arise, you are nervous for Eddie and his tenuous grip on reality. Good sound, great action, cool idea—it’s what action movies are supposed to be.
In summary: Meets Expectations. It doesn’t exceed them because it is the right kind of entertainment from a blockbuster action film, but still has its flaws—the finance stuff does dull the excitement maybe a touch, even though you see why he’s doing it. The movie then has the monetary concerns of Inside Job plus the skewed-reality thrills of The Adjustment Bureau, a fact that maybe only I see because they’re two of the more recent movies I’ve seen. Actually, coupled with the similar intro of Rango, maybe there are just no new movie ideas. Anyway, there is also a frustratingly unsolved crime and a sense at the end that you’re not sure whether Eddie is a poor schmuck caught up in things beyond his control or an A-grade asshole straight out of The Hangover, which, god forbid, is about to spout a sequel. Still, there are some genuinely nifty moments in it, one involving a pool of blood that made the whole audience squirm (you’ll know it when you see it), and it sure holds you in thrall. Anyway, everyone should have to go see a film directed by a guy called Neil Burger, just to stick it to the people who probably bullied him at school.