Top critical review
Fun, but not as clever as it thinks it is
on 19 January 2016
Have you ever been cornered by a cokehead at a party? Of course you have. They share their brilliant insights and ideas for killer projects that they somehow haven't got off the ground yet, and trample all over anything you say to them, because they are the elephant-sized God in the room.
Limitless is a film with moments of true greatness, but sadly it's undermined by the fact that its central conceit involves Bradley Cooper strutting around New York as the exact depiction of what every arrogant, coke-addled advertising executive thinks they're like ALL THE TIME.
Eddie, a loveable loser writer gets (incredibly plot-expedient and unconvincing) access to a potent designer drug that boosts his intellect exponentially and makes him shave, the same day that his exasperated and preternaturally patronising girlfriend leaves him. This ex-girlfriend is of course won back instantly by the fact he's started shaving.
Also impressed by Eddie's new shaving skills is Carl, Robert de Niro's prickly CEO. We're constantly told that this character gives no one a second chance, but Eddie wigs out in every single scene with Carl and still somehow manages to wind up playing a key role in a multi-billion takeover deal... apparently receiving tens of millions of dollars on the strength of a verbal contract.
Meanwhile, Eddie runs into a spot of bother, as this mind-enhancing drug gives him the power to predict the stock markets, but apparently not to recognise that getting involved with loan sharks and mind-altering drugs is probably not the greatest idea. Essentially, this wonder-drug starts to wear a bit thin whenever confronted with a problem that can't be solved by shaving or, in extreme cases, wearing a nice suit.
This is all of course very snarky and unfair, but then you can't make a film about the untapped brilliance of the human mind without people pointing out how fundamentally stupid it is in many ways. Eddie's character is, to quote whoever it was that said it unkindly of Stephen Fry, "a stupid person's idea of what a clever person is like". To be fair, this is even acknowledged within the film. Robert de Niro has a big long speech about the value of experience, and how Eddie hasn't "earned" his talent. Drugged-up Eddie is arrogant, brash and cocky, but then he's put in his place by the only character in the film who's even MORE repellent.
Limitless also suffers from the Bruce Almighty school of depicting "losers" in cinema. Just as Jim Carrey's "downtrodden" Bruce actually had a nice car, a job in TV and was dating Jennifer Aniston, so Bradley Cooper's Eddie starts the film with an apparently lucrative book deal, dating Abbie Cornish, and living in New York. When even his disastrous first marriage turns out to have been to Anna Friel, you do start wanting to cheer on the gangsters pursuing Eddie.
Judged purely on its own merits, Limitless is a slick and entertaining rags-to-riches style film. De Niro and Cooper work well together on screen, as several reunion films have also demonstrated (American Hustle, Joy, Silver Linings Playbook). There's some nice attention to lighting design to differentiate between "normal" Eddie and "drugs" Eddie. There are a few fun twists in the story. But this really is a truly absurd film, and you need to get past that and accept it before you can really enjoy it.