For a film about a drug able to turn its user into a genius, Limitless isn't exactly the brightest bulb in the box — or the smartest movie in the multiplex, as it were.
Working from a novel by Alan Glynn, director Neil Burger and scripter Leslie Dixon have fashioned a picture that offers its share of surface pleasures without delving deeply into the intriguing material at hand. Bradley Cooper stars as Eddie Morra, a struggling writer whose life is so messy and rudderless that even his patient girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) finally bails. A chance encounter with his ex-wife's brother (Johnny Whitworth) finds him in possession of tiny pills (each worth $800, he's told) that, after ingested, allow him to write an entire novel in the course of four days while learning to play the piano and mastering a couple of foreign languages on the side. It turns out that this miracle pill unlocks that mythological 80 percent of the human brain that we don't use — now, I would think that such a leap in mental agility would render an individual instantly insane, but that wouldn't make for a very interesting movie. So Eddie, after acquiring enough pills to last him awhile, is allowed to put his newfound intelligence toward becoming a good capitalist: acquiring a haircut and expensive suits, banging women left and right before reuniting with Lindy, and making a killing on Wall Street. But things aren't all rosy for our upwardly mobile protagonist: An Eastern European loan shark (Andrew Howard) becomes a persistent pest, a strange man follows him everywhere, and the pill's side effects are starting to take hold.
The philosophical ramifications of suddenly becoming the most intelligent man on Earth are either too complex or hold too little appeal for Burger and Dixon, with the peeks into Eddie's beautiful mind simply conveyed through saturated color schemes and letters tumbling down from the rafters. Still, pushing aside the ridiculous ending and a few risible moments strewn throughout — Abbie's defensive skating-rink maneuver, Eddie lapping up blood Cronos-style, co-star Robert De Niro pretending to be interested in anything other than his paycheck — Limitless is a fairly entertaining thriller, well-paced by Burger, stylishly shot by cinematographer Jo Willems and making the most of Cooper's cocky persona. Viewers aware of its limitations beforehand will probably enjoy it the most.