Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Limitless

Finally!  Two years after The Hangover surprised the movie industry by being a ridiculous hit, someone from the cast has moved on to starring roles!  Yes, Bradly Cooper has apparently come of age in Hollywood; he has made a successful sequel, co-starred in The A-Team, and is now People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive," which I assume he received after slaying Ryan Reynolds.  This is his first time carrying a major motion picture --- how did the new "it" man do?

Limitless is one of those movies that doesn't trust the audience to stick around for a slow-building plot.  Most of the film is told in a flashback, with some narration from Cooper in the lead role.  Apparently, he made a "miscalculation," which has led to his neighbor being murdered, with Cooper's character up next.  Did that hook you?  Probably not.  It's a pretty generic opening for a thriller.  Did it make sense?  I sure hope so, because that's about as much detail as the teaser bookends of this movie offer.  But I'll clear things up.  Eddie (Bradley Cooper) is a loser who fancies himself a writer.  He has a book deal, but he hasn't written a word in months.  Aside from his writing, Eddie spends his time mooching off his girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish), whose parents were aviation nuts.  That's just a logical guess on my part; these characters aren't terribly well-developed, so I just wanted to flesh her out a bit.  Anyway, Lindy dumps Eddie because he's a self-centered mooch who makes excuses and looks like he is a member of Blind Melon.
Sexiest Man Alive
Obviously, Eddie is having a bad day.  Immediately after the break-up talk, Eddie randomly bumps into his ex-brother-in-law, Vernon (Johnny Whitworth) who used to be a sleazy drug dealer.  Now, replace "used to" with "still is," and you have his character's history.  Vernon gives Eddie a single pill to cheer him up; Eddie takes it because his life is pretty awful and because he's an idiot who ingests mystery chemicals without asking what they are or what they do.  The next thing Eddie knows, he has seduced a married woman, cleaned his apartment, and written 40 excellent pages of his novel. 
Apparently, some people are productive when tripping balls
Of course, the effects wear off, so Eddie needs a fix from Vernon, who decides to be a jerk and make Eddie his errand boy to pay for the privilege of buying more of the drug, which he calls NZT-48.  This drug supposedly allows people to access 100% of their brain's capabilities, which explains the writing and the philandering, I guess.  After all, brains love sex and words.  Vernon is murdered by an unknown party who were also apparently looking for this rare drug.  They didn't find it.  Eddie did.  Now Eddie can get his life on track with a haircut, a new job, millions of dollars, and all the fancy stuff he could ever want because he is suddenly a genius at everything.  All thanks to drugs!  But living the high life doesn't come cheap, and Eddie finds himself faced with unruly Russian mobsters, a demanding boss, mystery people trying to steal his fix, and a permanently smug expression.
Okay, it's a clever ad campaign.  I still want to slap him.
Thank goodness drugs never have any negative repercussions, especially mystery drugs that are designed to influence they way your brain functions.

I wasn't terribly impressed with Bradley Cooper in this, his first big starring role.  He was okay, given the story, but being a mediocre actor with a stupid story is nothing special.  I will say that his character's long hair was the least believable handsome-actor-obviously-wearing-an-ugly-wig I've seen since John Cusack in Being John Malkovich.  Aside from that, Cooper alternates smugness with wimpy panicky moments.  Abbie Cornish is decent as Eddie's responsible, sane, and pretty love interest. 
She is essentially designed to be Eddie's moral sounding board, letting him know that doing drugs and lying isn't cool, which is as thankless a task as it sounds.  Robert DeNiro is okay as a super-duper international businessman, but the threat that his character promises is never followed through with.  Anna Friel has a bit part as Eddie's ex-wife, and she is far less attractive when make-up artists don't want her to be pretty.  Andrew Howard plays the Russian thug with more joy than anybody else in this cast, but it's a pretty standard role that has little new to offer.  Rounding out the cast, Tomas Arana is once again "that guy you don't trust to do the right thing."

Director Neil Burger handled Limitless with some spurts of imagination that seemed inspired by the title; the rest of the time, he was fairly awful.  First, the good: Burger used some pretty cool visuals to show how Eddie was using his brain more (the ceiling tiles turning into stock quotes, letters falling in his room, etc.), and I liked the recurring use of having a character literally step outside themselves to see their situation with new, drug-fueled, eyes.  Now, the bad: this was a predictable, cliche-ridden plot with shallow characters and no one to root for. 
Hero: lying, manipulative druggie.  Villain: hard-working immigrant
Oh, and the "zoom forward" effect that is used throughout the movie looks like the work of an uninspired music video director, circa-1995.  The plot is certainly to blame for a lot of the problems with Limitless, but it is ultimately up to the director to make a script into a good film.  Burger doesn't quite do that.

Immediately after finishing Limitless, I thought to myself that it wasn't great, but wasn't bad, either.  Hardly a recommendation, but not a head on a pike to warn others, either.  Then I started to think about it.  This is a movie that advocates ingesting mind-altering chemicals, despite horrible and fatal repercussions.  This is a film where the hero has a true love, but still bangs every other woman he encounters in the movie.  This is a story where a huge problem for Eddie is his limited supply of Limitless pills and he shows a remarkable ability to master any craft he pays any attention to.  Even more remarkably, Eddie apparently chooses not to learn anything about science and instead hires a random science dude to make more; even stranger, Eddie doesn't feed science guy any drugs to make him suddenly brilliant.  That is a pretty stupid plot hole for a movie that is supposed to be about being smart.  I think DeNiro was used poorly, and I would have really liked to see him (or anyone, really) out-think Eddie.
DeNiro, reacting to someone saying how much they loved Showtime
Aside from the gaping plot hole, Limitless isn't a bad thriller.  No, I never liked Eddie or any of the other characters, but I thought the premise was an interesting one.  There is a moral dilemma that arises when people significantly alter themselves, and I liked that notion, even if this film clearly wasn't going to delve into the subject.  Hell, this story does its best to avoid morality or guilt whenever possible; Eddie shows no emotion for anyone that has suffered because of him, even his innocent (and murdered) neighbor in the beginning of the film.  I also found it interesting to see drugs shown in such a positive light, even a fictional one with lethal side effects.  Sadly, taking a questionable stance on pharmaceuticals isn't enough to overcome the plot holes or the soulless characters.  The idea has some legs, but on the whole, this is a little underwhelming.

2 comments:

  1. This movie plain sucked, for all the reasons you listed, plus I thought DeNiro totally mailed it in. He looked so bored and I think he may have been reading his lines from cue cards. Worst plot hole for me was that this super smart dude uses a sleazy Russian loan shark to get money. Brilliant!

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  2. DeNiro mailing it in is still better than most supporting actors chewing on scenery. I thought he gave enough effort to make his final confrontation with Cooper potentially cool. I would have loved to see DeNiro outthink Cooper and prove that NZT isn't the best thing in the world. Unfortunately, the story didn't go that way.

    As for the Russian issue, I think a bigger problem is the fact that Cooper --- super smart guy --- doesn't see a super-smart Russian mobster as a threat.

    Yeah, I probably should have given this a harsher rating. I just don't feel like watching it again to be sure.

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