Movie Review Monday: Limitless

Mike Finkelstein decided one day that he wanted to be smart.  Instead of reading, learning, or trying a craft, he figured he’d do what Bradley Cooper did (because, you know…that could happen…).  Maintenant, il parle français.  Here is his review of “Limitless”.

PLOT: A struggling writer (Bradley Cooper) discovers a drug that lets him access 100 percent of his brain power.  His new abilities lead to power, wealth, women, and a whole lot of trouble in the form of a shady businessman (Robert DeNiro), a Russian mobster (Andrew Howard) and unexplained blackouts.

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW: You know how they say we can only access 20% of our brain…? This lets you access all of it.”

What an awesome idea for a movie.  Who hasn’t thought about what they could do if they had full access to their brain?  All the money…all the power…all the women.  The possibilities are limitless (Hah! Get it?? Because that’s the title of the movie! …… *cough* back to the review…).  So when you have an idea that could go in literally any direction with any number of conflicts and oppositions, you better have a heck of a story to back it up, right?

Okay, let’s start with the good things.  Everything starts on a hell of a high note.  Bradley Cooper’s Eddie Morra is standing on the edge of his high-rise apartment about to jump.  He looks completely messed up, and someone is trying to break into his Panic Room-esq penthouse apartment.  We’re locked in immediately.

We flash back to see how we got to this point: Eddie is a messed up writer whose life is falling apart.  He can’t even write one page of his new book, his landlord is on his back for the rent, and his girlfriend just left him.   We learn all this (and everything else that happens throughout the movie) through Cooper’s inner monologue and narration.  It’s sarcastic, funny and charming, and a great device to push the story along.

Then, we get the first taste of the drug NZT-48.  Suddenly, the whole film transitions from its cold, dull blues to warm, crisp oranges.  Eddie is seeing everything clearer.  He gets style, learns culture and languages, becomes a stock and mathematical genius, and can charm any woman in seconds.  And we get to go on the ride with him.  We’re still all in.

And then Eddie runs out of the drug for the first time…and it all goes boom…

The biggest issue with LIMITLESS is that with such extraordinary powers, you could showcase the awesomeness for a while, but then you have to have a conflict or a rival worthy enough to hit back, and hard.  This never happens.  We constantly have hints of a huge challenge: the consequences are lethal if Eddie goes off NZT-48, but every time he runs out, there’s a ridiculous way to get more.    What about a villain?  For a Superman, you need your Lex Luthor.  Here, we have Bobby DeNiro’s corporate Carl Van Loon and Andrew Howard’s Russian gangster, Gennady.  Anything they throw Eddie’s way is given an ‘uh-oh’ moment, and then Eddie conveniently figures out the situation.  Hell, even when Eddie’s girlfriend (played by Abbie Cornish) is running from a pill-popping super henchman, she has time to pop her own pill and ends up using a five-year-old’s ice skate as a deadly weapon.  (All I kept thinking was that little girl is going to be in therapy for a very, very long time…)  The real conflict and/or rival never seems to actually materialize anywhere, and the movie weakens drastically because of it.

I’m sad to say it almost felt like the writers scared themselves with their potential and kept backing away to safety.  This is a script that could have built complexity on top of complexity to make an amazingly deep, smart movie.  But no…one huge subplot that seemed to be the only real threat to Eddie, involving lapses in memory and murder,  disappears like it was never there.  Another with Eddie’s ex-wife showing how the drug could affect a person just comes off borderline comedic.  And as for the ending, let’s just say there was a hint of danger that was dismissed in about the same time it took you to swallow that handful of popcorn you just put in your mouth.

All of this is so sad, because all the other elements are there.  Besides a vertigo-type effect around New York that made me a bit nauseous, director Neil Burger gives us some beautiful scenery and special effects (including the aforementioned color temperature technique).  Bradley Cooper shows that he could play a charismatic leading man, Abbie Cornish is a respectable girlfriend, and Andrew Howard comes across well as a lowlife gangster.  And yes, I know DeNiro has been phoning it in for years, and that has definitely not changed here, but it’s DeNiro, and his angry face could still make me piss my pants in fear.

As the credits rolled on LIMITLESS, my friend and I both sat there, trying to figure out if we liked the movie or not.  And then we figured out what it was: The concept was so damn good that we almost didn’t want to believe that we were so badly let down.  LIMITLESS never really figured out what it wanted to be…a drama, thriller, action/adventure, comedy, wet dream?  It was all over the place, and yet nowhere at the same time.  When you have a movie that you know in your gut could have been so much more, that’s carries more disappointment than any other definitively bad movie you’ll ever see.

GRADE: B-

Mike’s LIKES:

1) BRADLEY COOPER: Charming and badass.  You really can’t go wrong with the guy from THE HANGOVER

2) THE CONCEPT: The idea and concept for this film had endless possibilities.  Using 100% of your brain…what you could possibly do…and with that, I lead into the DISLIKE list….

Mike’s DISLIKES:

1) WASTED POTENTIAL: Like I said…endless possibilities, and they really did nothing with it.  It seemed like the ideas were juvenile when they could have been so much more.  Very disappointing when you take the time to think about it.

2) ROBERT DENIRO: I think we all agree that DeNiro has been on a downward spiral lately.  Besides EVERYBODY’S FINE, he’s been on autopilot, and this is just another example of something he could have milked and made his own instead turning into a phone-it-in supporting role.

3) NO VILLAIN: Every hero has to have a villain.  Who was the villain here?  DeNiro?  No.  The Russian?  Nah.  Losing pills/death?  All too easy.  Give the superhero a challenge worthy of his superpowers!

4) VERTIGO SHOTS: I’m sorry, but these just kept bothering me.  The first time it was cool, but after a while, I had to look down  because I was getting nauseous.

5) ENTIRE SUBPLOTS GONE: When you have that big of a subplot/incident and it’s just pushed to the side and forgotten about, you know there’s an issue.  They didn’t even take the time to throw in a one-liner that would have taken care of it.  It was literally gone like Richie’s older brother in “Happy Days”

EXTRA FACTS:

1) Shia LaBeouf was originally signed on for the lead role, but had to drop out due to an arm injury after a car accident.

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