Go Ask Alice
by Glenn Lovell
A seriously blocked writer of questionable talent, Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is schlub-y even by Woody Allen standards.
When they bump into him, Eddie’s friends assume the worst, that things have gotten so bad he’s now living on the street. Soon girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) joins in the chants of “loser!” and gives him the boot.
“I had clearly missed the on-ramp,” Eddie acknowledges in typically droll understatement.
Then he bumps into his ex-brother-in-law, who suggests a pharmaceutical pick-me-up. It’s called NZT-48. Not yet on the street but (well, sort of) FDA approved, the little green pill, he promises, will allow Eddie to tap into the 80 percent of the human brain that, in most mere mortals, lies fallow.
At first skeptical, Eddie in desperation pops a pill and has a classic out-of-body experience, actually seeing himself (with the aid of some nifty digital compositing) in triplicate, coming and going … and coming. “I was blind but now I see,” he reports, as if waking from a deep sleep.
And so begins Neil Burger’s “Limitless,” a humdinger of a science fiction thriller that scoots easily from shaggy-dog fable to noir-ish mystery to conspiracy thriller and winds up (goody goody!) on the dark side of the Twilight Zone.
Taken from an Alan Glynn novel, it’s a Faustian morality play with Eddie selling his soul to succeed without really trying. In no time with a surge of energy, “the enhanced Eddie” is playing the piano like Chopin, bantering with waiters in Cantonese and French, and parlaying thousands into millions as a day trader. “I suddenly knew everything about everything,” he tells us.
It’s his success on Wall Street that brings him to the attention of financier Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), who’s manipulating the market to facilitate a corporate takeover. Van Loon isn’t sure what Eddie has, but he knows he wants to exploit it.
As Dorian Gray learned, such powers come at a price. For Eddie, the rushes that the smart-pills provide are soon followed by bouts of paranoia and increasing blackouts. Solution: increase the daily dosage from one to a mitt full.
“Limitless” is a cautionary tale for our times. It’s funny, fast-moving and, ultimately, quite cynical. Burger, who scored a few years back with “The Illusionist,” does a superb job of navigating tonal shifts, starting screwball comedy light and becoming progressively bleaker. I was nervous that he wouldn’t be able to keep up the act, that he would sell out and go for the moralistic ending. He doesn’t. And that more than anything will keep people talking about this film long after the lights come up.
“Limitless” also proves that Cooper is ready to swim with the big boys. On sabbatical from “A-Team” and “The Hangover,” the actor, who also executive produced, is obviously more than a one-trick pony: As the situation requires here, he plays dopey, desperate, debonair and demonic. It’s an impressive repertoire, made all the more so because, despite the Jekyll-Hyde transformations, we remain in his corner.
LIMITLESS ✮✮✮1/2 With Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro, Andrew Howard. Directed by Neil Burger; scripted by Leslie Dixon from Alan Glynn novel. 105 mins. Rated: PG-13 (but feels like an R for profanity, violence).