When you boil it down, LIMITLESS is a superhero movie for the “Me” Generation. The person who pops the clear pill in the story attains the full capabilities of his brainpower (and then some), but instead of using his abilities to do good, he/she uses it to amass vast fortunes and power. This film is one among a number of sci-fi films that have recently been coming out in theaters (THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, PAUL, the upcoming SOURCE CODE) and I have to say it’s a pretty welcome sight, especially when they’re done intelligently. LIMITLESS most reminds me of the recently released (and also pretty good) THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU because its also about a man whose reality changes into something else while at the same time being pursued by shadowy figures. This film ended up impressing me more than THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU and even though it was not adapted from a Philip K. Dick novel like BUREAU was, LIMITLESS ends up being a more successful Dickensian adaptation.

LIMITLESS is about Eddie Morra, an average struggling writer (Bradley Cooper) who can’t even put one word on paper and is supported by his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish). He lives in a shitty NYC apartment and is one step away from being homeless. One day he runs into his ex-wife’s brother (Johnny Whitworth), who Eddie has not seen in 9 years. After briefly catching up, the brother hands Eddie a clear pill and tells him to try it with a promise that it will change his life for the better. Hesitantly, Eddie takes it and to his astonishment, see’s everything with perfect clarity. He is told that the pill basically allows you to use 100% of your brain rather than 20% of it, which is the average percentage that most people use. Suddenly, Eddie finds that he’s able to complete his perfect novel in a few days, learn different languages in hours, and make accurate financial market predictions that no one else can. There is a downside, however. Once you start taking the pills, you can’t stop or else you will get sick and die. Eddie’s financial success and predictions soon attracts the attention of a big time investor (Robert De Niro), who entrusts the completion of a major corporate merger into Eddie’s hands. Of course, this wouldn’t be a movie without a conflict and that conflict emerges when others discover Eddie’s secret and want in on it.

I didn’t mind Bradley Cooper in THE HANGOVER because his character in that movie was supposed to be sort of a douchebag and Cooper has the classic face of a douchebag. The problem is when Cooper plays other types of characters, especially protagonists who are not supposed to be assholes. Due to his looks, it is very hard to empathize with him or to even remotely like him, which is why I didn’t buy into his character in last year’s THE A-TEAM. Cooper seems to recognize and take advantage of this by incorporating it into his character while at the same time managing to retain a sufficient level of likeability to make the audience connect with him. And it works! Not that I have seen many films with Bradley Cooper, but I can definitely say that this is the first time I have actually enjoyed watching him onscreen. Eddie Morra exudes a confidence that isn’t overtly cocky or pretentious. Despite his enhanced smarts, Eddie is still an outsider in his newfound world of power and riches and instead of seeing him as just another rich asshole, we live through him vicariously.

Studios used to use a term called ‘box office poison’ to label an actor who continually made flop after flop. Robert De Niro has unfortunately become one of those actors. The last time I saw the actor star in anything good was MEET THE PARENTS, which came out back in 2000! No longer do we see the De Niro who seemed to always reinvent himself and push the envelope. These days, the actor has made himself comfortable collecting fat paychecks making standard issue Hollywood fare. LIMITLESS is thankfully an exception, but I say that with a caveat because although De Niro does a serviceable job in this movie, he doesn’t do anything that we haven’t seen him do countless of times in the past. His role could have been played by anyone else and it would have remained a very good movie. In other words, De Niro doesn’t elevate the quality of this film with his performance, but at least its nice to for once not see him star in a crap movie.

Rounding out the cast is Abbie Cornish, who I’ve never seen before, but based on her performance in LIMITLESS, she’s someone I’d like to see more of. The actress reminds me a bit of Charlize Theron in looks and style of performance. There isn’t a whole lot that the actress is given to do in this movie as the film is almost entirely focused on Bradley Cooper. However, there is one standout scene in the movie where she really shines and made me wish she would get cast in an action movie where she plays the lead. The scene I’m referring to in LIMITLESS is where she has to run away from her pursuer. Too frightened to figure a plan of escape, she takes one of the pills and it immediately enables her to formulate a plan. She suddenly makes a run for it in Central Park toward a skating rink with her pursuer right on her heels. As she crosses the ice rink and with the pursuer quickly gaining on her, she picks up a little girl and swings her toward her pursuer, causing the little girl’s ice blade to slash across the pursuer’s face. It’s an awesome scene and Cornish pulled it off beautifully.

I mentioned before that LIMITLESS is a superhero movie for the “Me” Generation and because of that, the film makes some choices that I don’t agree with. For one, when the ex-brother-in-law explains to Eddie Morra what the clear pill does, which allows you to use 100% of your brain’s capacity, a huge difference emerges throughout the movie between what the pill is supposed to do and what it actually does. Theoretically, the use of your entire brain would probably enable you to remember an amazing amount of information that you’ve gathered throughout your life. It would probably also enable you to learn and apply new information at a much faster rate than normal. At first, the film seems to follow this rule whenever Eddie swallows a pill. However, the movie eventually breaks its rule by turning the pill into an all-powerful solution that, when swallowed, will make virtually anything possible. By the end, Eddie is able to literally predict the future. With this being a sci-fi story, some of you won’t be bothered by this because you will already be expecting a certain level of incredulity given the film’s premise. But based on how the pill is initially presented to the character and the audience, I think the filmmakers decided to stretch the boundaries they established for themselves in the beginning.

Another disagreeable aspect of LIMITLESS is that Eddie Morra never uses the pill to help anyone but himself. Instead of trying to solve some world problem or stop greed and corruption in Wall Street, Eddie merely uses the pill to enrich himself and gain influence. The film celebrates these aspirations by rewarding its main character with the attainment of those goals and by the end of the movie, Eddie has everything he dreamed of. LIMITLESS provides a great insight into the values of America’s current “Me” generation, but instead of criticizing it, the film praises those values by allowing its character to succeed. This obviously isn’t some sort of narrative flaw, but it’s simply a value and narrative choice that I wish had not been made by the filmmakers.

All in all, LIMITLESS is an entertaining film that is worth the price of admission. Neil Burger, the director, presents the movie in a visually striking and energetic style that mirrors the main character’s charisma and streak of success when he takes the pill. Bradley Cooper gives his best performance to date and we even get to see De Niro finally play a character that faintly hints at his former glory days (especially in an end scene). LIMITLESS presents interesting questions of morality and the lengths we are willing to go to in order to achieve wealth and success. Hopefully, this is a movie that audiences will discover and enjoy.

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