Nothing stokes the interest and imagination of American movie-goers so much as super-powers. Sure, we all like the gratuitous explosions and 3-D that come along with them, but there's something to be said for a particular national fixation on being bigger and better, more powerful, and more distinct. Maybe it has something to do with 'The American Dream,' but let's not get into that, shall we? Suffice to say, it's become increasingly difficult to find a unique take on super-human abilities, and that's just what Limitless sets out to be.
Bradley Cooper, in his first real starring vehicle, plays Eddie Morra, the down-on-his-luck type that actors always grow out their hair and don't shave in order to play. He's unemployed, unmotivated, and un-loved, as his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) leaves him in the movie's opening moments. But just as things hit rock bottom, Eddie stumbles into NZT, a 'pharmaceutical' that allows its users to access the entirety of their brains. Suddenly having a leg up on the competition, Eddie starts to seize the day in just about every fashion imaginable, but with such boundless abilities come unexpected consequences.
Limitless is a mash-up of a lot of different things: A cautionary tale, a drug movie, a thriller, and a clear riff on Gaspar Noé's Enter the Void. Sure, the two aren't exactly cut out of the same cloth story-wise, but anyone who would deny that Limitless borrows some of Noé's visuals (especially in the case of the opening credits) is simply being stubborn. It's a clever idea, introducing the movie-going public to feverishly-paced, neon-lit trip-out of Void's visuals without plunging into the movie's NC-17 territory, and while Director Neil Burger doesn't have the chops to craft something as mind-blowing as Noé, you can at least enjoy his movie as you watch it. Think of it as a trip gone right.
Probably the most surprising thing about Limitless is just how much fun Cooper is to watch. He's still not as likable a screen presence as many of his contemporaries, but neither is Eddie Morra, and Cooper's got a surprisingly firm grip on what exactly makes him tick. It's a strong performance, but more importantly, it proves that Cooper is a guy that you want to spend a couple of hours with, which is honestly something that I didn't know until the movie started.
There are any number of less flattering things that I could point out about the flick: The screenplay is full of blunt and inhuman dialogue, including some rough moments of Bradley Cooper voice-over, and it makes more than its fair share of odd choices, especially during the maniacal closing moments. I could keep going, but what's far more important than picking apart Limitless bit by bit is recognizing it as an absolute blast to watch. Armed with every lens, technique, and liberty known to man, cinematographer Jo Willems turns the movie into a drugged-out, trance-inducing visual treat, aided by the soundtrack's propulsive techno numbers and a couple of well-placed Black Keys songs.
Burger is a name to remember. His 2006 effort, The Illusionist, displayed the very same things that Limitless now confirms: Even with a bum screenplay, Burger can make a movie crackle with energy, and he knows a thing or two about filling the screen with beautiful images. Five years later, he's stepped up his game with actors as well, drawing strong performances from Abbie Cornish, Anna Friel, and (for seemingly the first time in years) Robert De Niro. Limitless is the kind of hyper-stylized (kinda-sorta) message movie that I could see early High Schoolers across the nation declaring a masterpiece. It's not, but it sure is a fun ride while you're on it, unpredictable and insane, with enough adrenaline and pizazz to hold your attention from first frame to last.