MOVIE REVIEW: Limitless

LIMITLESS-- 4 STARS

As busy people in America seeking success, we are always looking for a edge or a shortcut.  For an edge, we want to be different and better than our competition.  We want to standout and perform better than the other guy.  We want to exploit an advantage and win as competitive people.  When it comes to shortcuts, we like what they can do.  Even if it's an infomercial kitchen gadget, we'll partake in anything that saves a little time, wins a race, or gets us ahead of our competition.  But as the great movie Road Trip says, "It's supposed to be a challenge, that's why they call it a 'shortcut.' If it was easy it would just be 'the way.'" 

Limitless is about the challenges of the ultimate shortcut.  We meet The Hangover and The A-Team's Bradley Cooper as Eddie Morra, a down-and-out bum of a writer.  Late on his deadline and dumped by his girlfriend Lindy (Sucker Punch's Abbie Cornish), the toilet bowl is swirling around him.  That all changes when Eddie runs into his ex-wife's brother, Vernon, a slick-suited reformed drug dealer now selling black-market pharmaceuticals.  Vernon propositions Eddie on trying a clear, experimental pill called NZT-48.  Low and behold, within minutes, it activates untapped areas of his brain, expands his intelligence, and improves his focus.  When Eddie goes back to Vernon's place for more, he finds him dead, but takes the huge stash of NZT for himself before reporting the crime.

On NZT, Eddie's a changed man.  He writes his book in a matter of days and seeks out further intellectual and more financially beneficial challenges.  This leads to immediate success and the essential self-improvement plan of expensive clothes, fast cars, a nice haircut, and easy women.  He picks up languages, conquers anything mathematical, and sees every scenario before it happens, even re-winning over Lindy.  Eddie's rapid rise and earnings in the stock market get the attention of Carl Van Loon (Academy Award winner Robert DeNiro, pleasantly not on a Meet the Parents role), a powerful businessman who wants Eddie on his team to broker a big secret merger.

Of course, with any drug, edge, or shortcut, there are consequences and side effects.  Along the way, Eddie gets with wrong lenders, makes the wrong enemies, attracts the attention of police, and starts to learn of the debilitating side effects of the NZT itself.  Off of NZT, Eddie is useless and trouble starts to box him in.

Between watching his skills at work and the suspense that starts to surround him, Limitless becomes a cool and slick thriller.  Director Neil Burger, best known for 2005's underrated The Illusionist with Edward Norton, visually takes you into Eddie's thought processes through zooming camera work and seamless background special effects.  Leslie Dixon's layered screenplay takes Eddie's story further than anyone who's just seen the trailer will think.

The slickness and coolness of Limitless is also cemented by Bradley Cooper's performance.  He's got charm and charisma to spare in pulling off a part Tom Cruise likely would have done in his younger days.  To go with judging the book by its cover (ladies, we've seen the magazine covers, we know you love his body and blue eyes), Cooper has the chops to hang with DeNiro too.  Pay attention, people, because Bradley Cooper is here to stay.  Between this and his two Hangover films, we're going to be talking about these years as the beginning of a big-time star someday. 

LESSON #1:  KIDS, DON'T DO DRUGS-- Sure, Limitless is about a down-and-out writer who finds something that takes him to another level intellectually, but this story could have easily been about an athlete using performance-enhancing drugs, an acid-tripping hippie artist, or even a boy who finds a genie inside a lamp that gives him wishes.  Drugs and shortcuts might make a difference at the start, but they have consequences and side effects.  Kids, build your own successes cleanly.  It's more healthy, legal, satisfying, and people will respect you for it.  Everyone loves a self-made man.

LESSON #2:  BRAINPOWER IS SCARY-- There is scientific fact out there that says we only use about 10% of our potential brainpower.  Owen Wilson from Wedding Crashers will tell you that we only use 10% of our hearts too, but that's another lesson.  The fact that the human race has accomplished what it has so far in this world with just 10% is pretty amazing.  It would really be something amazing and scary if all of us were able to tap into what Eddie did and use the other 90%.  Who wouldn't at least be curious to see their full potential?

LESSON #3:  THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A GIFT AND A SKILL-- Of all of the things Eddie becomes able to do, which ones are gifts and which ones are skills?  Which ones did he earn?  Which ones are curses?  Which ones can he lose or have taken away?  Which ones make him a better person?  What and how many of those you sort and disseminate between gifts and skills says something about you as much as it says something about Eddie, because, with or without help, everyone has gifts and skills in their life.