By CHRISTY LEMIRE
2011-03-19 02:56 PM
Cooper stars as Eddie Morra, a struggling and depressed New York writer living in a cluttered, rundown apartment. He's already divorced and his latest girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish), has just dumped him. These early scenes, in which he stumbles around the city in a shlubby, stubbly haze, reveal a depth we hadn't seen from Cooper in his previous films, like "The Hangover," "The A-Team" and "He's Just Not That Into You." And that makes them just about as exciting in their own way as the ones featuring the amped-up version of Eddie we'll see later on.
One day, he runs into his former brother-in-law, Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), on the street. Turns out Vernon is a pharmaceutical rep with a new wonder drug called NZT, which allows you to tap into your full brain potential. Eddie thinks, why not? He's got nothing to lose.
Suddenly, he's not only pounding out chapters on his long-languishing novel, he's cleaning up, picking up new interests, learning new languages and wowing everyone he meets. He loses weight, gets a haircut, buys some stylish new clothes and looks like ... well, he looks like Bradley Cooper. More importantly and more realistically, though, he does the thing we'd all do with frighteningly expanded brain power: He turns it into a way to make millions of dollars. Fast.
Director Neil Burger, whose first feature was the intriguing "Interview With the Assassin" from 2002, moves the story forward with an infectious energy. "Limitless" recognizes the insanity of Eddie's predicament and has a little fun with it _ that he's seemingly unstoppable, even as he sinks deeper into addiction and discovers some troubling side effects. Burger didn't need to rely on some of the visual tricks he employs, though _ words dropping from the ceiling to indicate a break in Eddie's writer's block, or multiple Eddies accomplishing tasks around the house. The fact that Eddie's world is brighter, faster and more sensory is enough.
Still, Cooper is surprisingly good as the down-and-out version of his character in the beginning, and as the wildly improved version of himself on NZT. Robert De Niro is quietly fierce (and does some of his best work in a while) as the financial guru who's fascinated by Eddie, and has a couple of scenes with Cooper in which he reminds you of just how formidable he can be. Cornish, meanwhile, probably doesn't get enough to do as Eddie's on-again, off-again girlfriend, who's skeptical of the new him.
You could probably scour the film for deeper themes: an indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, or our need to have it all and have it now. You could pick the script apart for impossibilities. But why bother? It's much more enjoyable to shut your brain off and have a good time.
"Limitless," a Relativity Media release, is rated PG-13 for thematic material involving a drug, violence including disturbing images, sexuality and language. Running time: 105 min. Three stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G _ General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG _ Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 _ Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R _ Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 _ No one under 17 admitted.