Bradley Cooper's Eddie is a self-described writer who hasn't written a single word in months and is about to get evicted, when a chance encounter with his ex brother-in-law leaves him with an experimental new drug that lets him access the 'remaining 80 percent of the brain'.
Overnight, Eddie feels the incredible benefits and seeks more, and the fun of the movie is mostly in how he chooses to apply those gifts, and whether he can stay alive long enough to outsmart the bad guys.
As Director, Neil Burger chooses the fun device of having Eddie's world bloom into saturated colour when he takes one of the pills, and we're treated to a sensory rapid-cut barrage of information for a moment. He also uses a great 'will it ever end?' sequence of cleverly pliced shots to indicate a crazy night that represents a key moment in the story.
The rest is backed up by a good music score, and very good acting. Cooper conveys tired, defeated and shabby with just as much talent as slick and focussed, De Niro is good, and Abbie Cornish is...okay. Anna Friel steals the female show with a role so raw and vulnerable that it's admirable.
It's a film full of minor twists and turns, some of them predictable and some not, so I won't go into the plot too much. Suffice it to say that it's interesting that Eddie is a flawed hero, and thankfully doesn't become too perfect even when he's smarter. However this is also where the film falls down.
If he was really as clever as the pill is supposed to make him, it would be a very boring film, because he'd see pitfalls and mistakes coming with his incredible analytical gifts. So instead, the film chooses to have him make one or two REALLY knuckleheadedly stupid decisions - while supposedly 'enhanced' on the wonder drug - just to create the danger and dilemmas that propel the story.
It's a necessary plot device, but it leaves you feeling cheated that the writers of a movie about a genius had to make him trip up so stupidly, just because they couldn't think of a better way to propel the story.
The 'pursuit' element of the plot is also mishandled (although it's very good when the film focusses on it). The main bad guy seems to forget about Eddie for large chunks of the film when he's at his most vulnerable, and then pop up again at random. The same for the criminal who provides the most colourful and threatening bad guy duties, and also some of the best thriller moments.
As his on-off girlfriend, Abbie Cornish's Lindy seems to forget her objections to how he acts as the 'new him' pretty quickly near the ending.
It's a fun film that shows the considerable possibilities and benefits of being a genius, mingling with the right people at parties and having a lavish lifestyle, while getting mental satisfaction. It's just a shame that the movie wasn't written with quite the same intelligence, and leaves you feeling like you're watching something that, while clever, was dumbed down.