Sun
Mar 20 2011 2:04pm
Review: Limitless

Limitless is a fairly well-executed movie with lots of visual pizazz and a leading man with startlingly blue eyes—an underrated asset, just ask any Paul Newman movie—that I nonetheless found a little annoying. For all its brisk pace and attractive presentation, Limitless never really amounts to anything more than white guy fantasy, and a very specific type of northeastern American upper-class white guy social climber fantasy at that. On that level, Limitless is about as perfect a voicing of that fantasy as one could ask: I watched it in a theater full of young white guys, and they gave it a standing ovation at the end of the movie. Take that as you will.

Bradley Cooper (he of the dreamy blue eyes) stars as Eddie Morra, who at the movies start is being pursued by unseen men trying to break into his awesome high-rise apartment, while he’s ranting in voiceover about having a four-digit IQ and considering jumping off the ledge. We then have a very snazzy credit sequence that jumps all over New York City and ends up foreshadowing something that starts happening to Eddie in the middle of act two—which well get to in a sec—and brings us to Eddie in an allegedly tiny and crappy Chinatown apartment that in real life would set you back a couple Gs a month. Hes a scruffy, long-haired writer whos constantly broke, has woman trouble, drinks too much, and gets distracted too easily. Which is to say, hes me. Well, except my eyes are a little more exotic and I actually finished my first novel. But back to the movie.

Eddies fiancee (Abbie Cornish) breaks up with him because she’s a grown-up and hes not and he gets all sad because he’s entitled to a perfect life without having to work for it. So he’s wandering around feeling sorry for himself and talking the audiences ear off in voice-over when he runs into his first wife’s brother, who used to be a drug dealer and now claims to be a pharmaceutical distributor (ah, euphemism). He gives Eddie a sample of this new stuff that’s the greatest thing since sliced Ecstasy and all manner of other drug dealer salesmanship. Looking for a pick-me-up, Eddie tries it and it turns out this stuff makes you as smart as cocaine makes you think you are. It allows him to remember literally every single thing hes ever seen, whether conscious or unconscious. This, in turn, allows Eddie to sleep with his landlords wife. Shes Asian, of course, since this is white guy fantasy.

Of course, the comedown from science-fiction cocaine is such that Eddie naturally wants more. He finds, though, that some bad guy or other has beaten up the dealer, who sends Eddie out to pick up his dry cleaning and breakfast (a total coke dealer move). When Eddie obediently returns, the guys dead and his apartment tossed. Eddie calls the cops, but before they arrive he tries to find the science-fiction coke and hides it in his pants; the cops don't seem to notice that he has a massive bag of pills and cash stuffed down the back of his pants, so I guess were not supposed to either.

From there, Eddie starts taking the drug regularly, which leads to him being able to generate wealth almost effortlessly. He makes the incredibly stupid mistake of borrowing startup capital from a Russian mobster, and then forgetting to pay the guy back promptly. While welching on his debt, Eddie generates a massive amount of wealth in a ridiculously short period of time, and ingratiates himself to powerful white men in suits, including Carl Von Loon (Robert De Niro, collecting his paycheck with an acceptable level of enthusiasm) who enlists Eddie to help with a Very Big Deal. Between the Russian mob, Robert De Niro, and the awful specter of withdrawal, Eddie has quite a lot to deal with (not to mention that even when hes “high” he occasionally blacks out for as much as a day and cant remember anything he did, which sometimes leads to fights), but deal he does; its not a spoiler to state that this is the kind of movie where consequences are for the bad guys, not the hero.

To its credit, Limitless makes no effort to be anything other than a wish-fulfillment thriller, and its stylishly presented by director Neil Burger and cinematographer Jo Willems on a surprisingly modest budget: its a 27 million dollar picture that looks better than many that cost four or five times as much. The music is disappointingly generic, considering that its trailer featured a song, Kanye West's “Power,” that basically is Limitless in song form—everything from “Im livin in the 21st century/Doin’ somethin’ mean to it/Doin’ it better than anyone you ever seen do it” to “No one man should have all that power” to the end part about jumping out the window—and yet is absent on the movies soundtrack. The Black Keys’ “Howlin’ For You” is used rather well, though.

Basically, if you’re able to accept Bradley Cooper as an avatar of your desire, Limitless is a fun way to spend an hour and forty-five minutes. You’ll also have to suspend disbelief for the science, as the movie hinges on the myth that we only use 20% of our brains; in the movie, the allegorical cocaine pill allows access to the other 80%. Allegory or no, the movie gets a number of details of the drug scene, and addiction, quite right, all except for the part about anything bad beyond a temporary inconvenience happening to you when you take them. Cooper has the chance to show a bit of range, which he does, though his forte remains the charismatic yuppie. It’s his world, everyone else is just there to have sex with him or give him money. As a fantasy, it’s, well...Limitless.


Danny Bowes is a playwright, filmmaker and blogger. He is also a contributor to nytheatre.com and Premiere.com.

11 comments
William S. Higgins
1. higgins
The music is disappointingly generic, considering that its trailer featured a song, Kanye West's “Power,” that basically is Limitless in song form...

I understand that trailers often employ music that is not part of the movie's soundtrack when it is finally released-- in many cases, I imagine, the score is not yet finished when the trailer hits the cineplexes.

I will leave it to others to discuss the cliched musical passages that have been overused in trailer soundtracks.
Also
2. Also
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flowers_for_Algernon
Teresa Jusino
4. TeresaJusino
The Social Network also used Kanye's "Power" in the trailers. I guess Trent Reznor isn't a Kanye fan? :)

But I find it interesting that you call the movie "white guy fantasy." I mean, who wouldn't want to be able to take a pill and instantly be smart and rich and be able to have sex with whoever they want (for me, that would be, among others, Bradley Cooper). But seriously, the reason why I want to see this movie is because I want to BE Bradley Cooper as WELL as want to do him. For this Puerto Rican woman, it's a fantasy film on multiple levels. And desire for money and power isn't exclusive to white men.

Thing is, the "fantasy" of a white guy having money and power can actually come TRUE in real life in a way that it CAN'T for women and minorities except in rare cases. Maybe that's why there was a standing ovation at the end of your screening? It wasn't cheering about "What a great fantasy!" it was "That's gonna be ME one day!"
Alex Brown
6. AlexBrown
@Teresa: You and I disagree on so many things, it's a wonder we still like each other :) I have very little tolerance for Bradley Cooper (he's right down there with Jennifer Lopez in terms of my patience for his "acting" ability) and there is absolutely nothing about his fantasies that seem remotely appealing to me. Then again, I'm also incredibly boring. Give me a limitless supply of cash and intelligence and I'd spend the rest of my life travelling aimlessly and reading. Hell if I'm going to get myself tangled up with the Russian mob.
Also
7. Edgewalker
Trailers are often cut by an outside company. Trent Reznor had nothing to do with the Social Network trailer.
Also
8. TheAdlerian
Danny,

I live for the day when you describe a film as a "Jew Guy Fantasy" because things will get exciting then!

I hear that packing groceries is very fulfilling.
Also
9. DarrenJL
Escapism in fiction?!?!?!?!??! How dare they!
Danny Bowes
10. DannyBowes
@TheAdlerian I hate to disappoint you, but that won't be happening any tme soon.
rob mcCathy
11. roblewmac
I had to think about it but I SEE the "white guy fantasy" Getting smart means you have sex with your landlord's Asian wife.
On the one hand I liked that it never went totally
"anti drug." but one expects taking a zillion doses of an unknown drug would do more harm.
PS sorry just saw it last night.

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