Limitless deals with a new non-FDA certified drug called NZT that gives a struggling novelist (Bradley Cooper) the focus he needs to fulfill his book contract. NZT also helps him learn foreign languages in minutes, earn millions on Wall Street and fight like Bruce Lee from merely watching his movies. But the pill apparently doesn’t offer him the common sense to stay away from the mob or abide by the theory of moderation.
Watching Limitless is like watching a longer version of the trailer for Limitless. It follows a very typical rise, fall and then rise again type plot. Nothing happens that you aren’t fully expecting, even if the way it happens rarely makes sense. At one point, Cooper is jonesing so hard for a fix of NZT that he stumbles into his girlfriend’s office while hardly being able to stand. He then inexplicably recovers enough to coach her through the process of finding the secret stash he hid in her apartment and evading the mobster tailing her along the way, just one of the film’s many frustrating inconsistencies.
Also frustrating is that Cooper only seems interested in using his new genius powers for personal gain when he could be fixing the economy, advising the president or I don’t know — anything useful. Instead he’s drawing graphs and trading stocks. The drug predictably begins showing side effects and Cooper experiences several lapses in time, during one of which he may or may not have murdered the blonde socialite he was so constructively spending his evenings with.
Cooper shows flashes of the comedic brilliance he displayed in The Hangover and The A-Team, but he mostly seems held back by director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) and a conservative PG-13 script that takes itself far too seriously. Robert De Niro is effective but underused, and Abbie Cornish, while adorable and looking like Nicole Kidman in her prime, has a worthless role as Cooper’s on-again-off-again girlfriend.
The film could have been a slick, sophisticated thriller. Instead, it looks so dingy that I felt like I needed to take a shower while watching it. Its combination of trippy camerawork and random pop-up graphics reminded me of drug-movie staples like Crank and Spun, but those movies were smart enough to realize how dumb they were. Maybe there’s a pill for that?