Depending on your take-away of the visual inventiveness and jam-packed plot that drives Limitless
to peaks and valleys of preposterous fun, drugs are either a terrible scourge or the fundamental solution to all of life's problems. Limitless
isn't exactly a morality tale, but the made-up drug that turns Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) from a scuzzy loser into a master of the universe does become a metaphor for ambition, menace, devastation, and ultimate success. Eddie is a writer who can't write, his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) just dumped him, and his squalid lifestyle has driven him to the breaking point. After a chance meeting with his mysterious ex-brother-in-law, he's offered change in the form of a little transparent button, a pill code-named NZT that allows the user to access 100 percent of their brain. After he pops it, Eddie is transformed. Everything he's ever heard, seen, glanced at, or passed by becomes neatly ordered in his mind. He has total recall, total access to knowledge both known and unknown, and he understands exactly what to do. Without the ingenious visual effects that frequently push the bounds of innovation, our view of the alteration of Eddie's drug-induced reality would fail utterly. When his synapses snap from every new hit, the sparkling blue of Bradley Cooper's eyes pops off of the screen, the colors and textures of his reality ripple and zoom with his every move. Of course he needs more of the drug to maintain his progression, not to mention his very life--remember, kids, drugs are addictive!
The movie throws tangled clumps of plot threads against each other in a whizzing mass that incorporates Russian gangsters, shadowy surveillance figures, cops, lawyers, and a couple of murder mysteries. It's a hurtling progression of narrative tangents that often echo the physical and mental extremes Eddie experiences when he's either on or off the drug. Sex, society, and money are big parts of Eddie's newfound brainpower, and he exploits them all. The money element leads Eddie to a big-shot investor, played with twinkling irony by Robert De Niro. The sparring matches between Cooper and De Niro are some of the best parts of the convoluted and manic pace that drives Limitless inexorably onward. Abbie Cornish is relegated to the sidelines far too much, and the suspension of disbelief required to simply maintain stride with the movie's frenzied velocity is often exhausting. But there are some bigger themes that director Neil Burger and writer Leslie Dixon try to sustain in spite of repeated absurdities meant to be accepted at face value. Eddie's actions are both vile and redemptive, and Cooper gives a rousing performance as he bounces from being contemptible to irresistible, sometimes all at once. Fortunately, Limitless is itself redeemed by the nifty visuals that often do evoke the effects of a drug that promises perfect clarity. It's best to just forget the ludicrous lack of coherence and enjoy it as a wildly entertaining trip on a perfect drug that offers the potential for payback and infinite salvation. --Ted Fry