DVD Review: Limitless

PDFPrintE-mail Written by Laura Pitts Wednesday, 06 July 2011

DVD / Blu-ray Reviews

Limitless is the sort of film that could’ve been great. Maybe it was never destined for awesomeness, but it could have reached the levels of the solid sci-fi thriller. Instead, it’s a wasted opportunity, a frenetic movie that doesn’t quite reach the intriguing heights that it promises.

Directed by Neil Burger (The Illusionist), and starring Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, The A-Team), the current go-to-guy for an edgy and yet likeable leading man, Limitless is a sort of intellectual Spider-man. The premise itself is intriguing, a “what if” scenario about new drug NZT-48 that allows the taker to access 100% of their brain (albeit at a cost), a tantalising concept that cleverly encourages the audience to ask themselves what they would do with such power. Cooper plays Eddie, an unemployed wannabe writer (and all-round loser) who is cajoled into taking the brain-enhancing drug, and finds that he can achieve amazing things as a result: he can write a masterpiece, become a millionaire, and earn a reputation as a genius in the stock market in an incredibly short space of time, as well as winning back his put-upon out-of-his-league ex-girlfriend Lindy (Abbey Cornish). But then come the inevitable consequences; Eddie begins blacking out, and he soon learns from the reappearance of his ex-wife Melissa (Anna Friel) that genius comes at a price. Our loser hero’s brain works faster than Spidey can shoot webs out of his wrists, but his downward spiral makes for a dark and depressing commentary on a man’s addictive nature and the price of genius.

There is so much to mine from such a juicy sci-fi premise, but screenwriter Leslie Dixon goes for the sleazy (Eddie seducing and manipulating a neighbour into an affair), and the frankly bizarre (Eddie, in drug withdrawal, licking the blood from a dying man who has the drug in his bloodstream- an “ew!” moment if ever there was one). The movie is fast-paced, but superficial; plot points and seemingly important events are conveniently forgotten. At the end of the second act, a murder plot is whipped out to heighten the excitement and raise the stakes and what might have been an interesting twist in an otherwise disappointing thriller just seems to fizzle out. Frustratingly, the plot is an endless cycle of the same beats, clearly reflecting the self-destructive cycle of a drug addict. Such an uninspired lesson in addiction is rather disappointing, and not particularly surprising; rather, it manages to elicit a sigh of frustration and annoyance over a character who is perpetually making the same mistakes.

Limitless might have actually worked if the characterisation had been substantial. Eddie dealing with his newfound powers should be fun, but while you’re waiting for a punch-the-air zero-to-hero moment that never comes, there is a vein of seediness and selfishness running through the movie that makes him rather pathetic (even in his brain-enhanced state). Cooper doesn’t quite manage to toe the line of sleazy/likeable, like he has done before in hits such as The Hangover. Instead of being charming, Eddie goes from pathetic to irritatingly smug in one overly blurry montage sequence. The hero doesn’t have to be a good guy, but the audience needs to like or at least sympathise with him and it’s difficult to see any redeemable features in a character who rejoices in his superiority over others, inflicting harm and causing destruction, and yet never has to pay the price. Eddie’s journey takes place in the first twenty minutes as he transforms from loser to genius and the remainder of the film lacks the necessary character development to keep an audience invested.

Despite all this, Limitless is an easy, if underwhelming, watch, and isn’t without its moments. The visualisations of Eddie’s genius (particularly in the first scenes as he discovers his new powers) are striking as scrabble letters drop from the ceiling, and numbers scroll across the walls. Robert de Niro puts in a solid performance as businessman Carl Van Loon, while Abbey Cornish does what she can with the underwritten stereotypical girlfriend role. The action is entertaining enough, but it’s the lack of character development that lets the movie down. While there is an unexpected twist at the end, there’s something unsatisfying about the hero’s journey or, more to the point, his lack of one. Eddie doesn’t actually learn anything at all, he doesn’t gain morals, or develop a conscience, despite doing terrible things that we the audience are expected to forgive or overlook. This results in an uneven movie that, while fast-paced, has no heart and an unlikeable, smug lead.

EXTRAS: Trailer / Director's Commentary Track / Alternate Ending / Behind the Scenes 'Making Of'

Momentum Pictures will release Limitless on DVD & Blu-ray in the UK on August 1st

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