Reviewed for MovieWeb by Harvey Karten
Directed By: Neil Burger
Written By: Leslie Dixon, from Alan Glynn's novel "The Dark Fields"
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish, Andrew Howard, Anna Friel, Johnny Whitworth
Screened at: AMC Empire, NYC, 3/19/11
Opens: March 18, 2011
The notion that we're using only five percent to ten percent of our brains is a myth, though you're bound to believe this if you note the test scores of our schoolchildren in reading and math. We want to imagine this, perhaps, because we hope that in the near future Pfizer will come up with a pill that will liberate our brains, allowing us to use all of their potential. Then again, if everyone is as smart as you, how will you be able to outguess your fellow Americans on which companies are about to merge, sending their stocks ski-high and handing you a fortune just for being able to get the jump on your fellows? In adapting Alan Glynn's (now out of print) novel "The Dark Fields, Leslie Dixon feeds into this understandable fantasy that by swallowing a clear pill daily we could have beaten Bobby Fischer at chess, understand Darwin's "The Origin of Species" and "Alain Resnais's "Last Year at Marienbad," and have more sex-though not necessarily in that priority order. What emerges in the movie under the direction of Neil Burger ("The Illusionist," "Interview with the Assassin") is a tale that is partly imaginative sci-fi and mostly a chase-and-kill melodrama. If you're using that full ten percent of your brain, you'll probably conclude that the first part, which is more cerebral, even satirical, is superior to the later gun-and-knife play that appeals more to the action-adventure crowd.
The concept that medical science can increase our intelligence is not new, but in fact was given a glowing accommodation by Ralph Nelson's movie "Charly," which, based on Daniel Keyes's novel "Flowers for Algernon" locates surgery that gives a retarded sweeper in a neighborhood bakery a spectacular boost in intelligence-albeit without giving Charly a coincident increase in emotional maturity. There is something about Charly in Neil Burger's hero, Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), who though surely not retarded acts like an irresponsible kid unable to hold on to a marriage (it lasted "five minutes" according to his ex brother-in-law) or remain in the iPhone database of Lindy (Abbie Cornish), his later squeeze.
Given the charm of Bradley Cooper in the primary role of Eddie Morra-a fellow who plays most of the movie with a stylish three-day beard and a mop of greasy unkempt hair, and a tenant in a Chinatown studio that a rat would not consider appropriate living quarters-"Limitless" is energetic, sometimes humorous, for the most part a battle of wits with some bad guys and for the rest some food for pharmaceutical thought. Much of Leslie Dixon's dialogue for Eddie is sharp, affording him a motor-mouth ability to discuss high finance with some of the Fortune 500 when he's not spending three days learning how to play a piano concerto or five more absorbing fluency in Italian and Mandarin Chinese.
Filmed by Jo Willems in New York with a Maserati-fueled chase scene in Mexico's Puerto Vallarta, "Limitless" finds Eddie suffering from writer's block, unable to meet a deadline on a book contract, living in a walk-up tenement without the funds to pay the rent, and losing his girlfriend who considers him a loser, a layabout, a shirker. When his former brother-in-law hands him a new drug, still years away from FDA approval because of yet-unknown side effects, he pops a pill and finds himself transformed. He doesn't have the luxury of Bill Murphy's character, Phil, in Harold Ramis's "Groundhog Day" since time goes by as expected, forcing him to lose days in order to learn classical piano. But there are deadly side effects in addition to the headaches and dizziness that overtake him when he is off the pill. Gangsters like Russian mafia loan-shark Gennady (Andrew Howard) want a piece of the action, specifically to force Eddie to reveal the location of his stash, while corporate giant Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro) pressures him to get the right info on a big merger being planned with another company. When Van Loon's expected business partner turns up in a coma, one of Eddie's one-night stands is found murdered, and Russian thugs are breaking down the door, Eddie realizes that being rich and powerful is not enough. He stands on the ledge of his eight-million dollar apartment mere inches from taking his final leap.
"Limitless" is bold, loaded with action and, even better, some dialogue that could have come from the mouth of Michael Douglas's character Gordon Gekko though spit out at a much faster pace. Though the (limited) Shia LaBeouf was originally tapped for the leading role, Relativity Media lucked out by choosing Bradley Cooper, best known for 20-something romantic larks like "Valentine's Day" and "He's Just Not That Into You." He is credible in the midst of absurdity, charming when not running for his life. And Robert De Niro wears a rug to die for.
Rated PG-13. 105 minutes. © 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online