As slick entertainment, Neil Burger’s Limitless works. There is the potential for more, because at its base this is the tale of a junkie, but if you’re looking for anything deeper than a fast-paced thriller, you’re not going to find it here. The film is definitely glossy and occasionally clever, and I can’t say it ever bored me. But at the same time, this is all that it has going for it. With nothing to chew on once the credits role, Limitless feels, well, a bit limited.
Bradley Cooper plays Eddie, a scruffy writer who we find with a nasty case of writer’s block, a pressing deadline and a girlfriend (Abbie Cornish, Bright Star) who has just dumped him. But as luck would have it, Eddie comes into possession of a little clear pill—given to him by his shady ex-brother-in-law (Johnny Whitworth, 3:10 to Yuma)—that unlocks the full potential of his brain. With the aid of this miracle drug, Eddie finishes his book in four days, finds out that he can learn languages in a matter of days, and has become a financial whiz kid. But with anything this fantastic, it’s not all salad days, since the drug not only has its fair share of physical side effects, but all types of ne’er-do-wells—who aren’t above murder—want to get their hands on these pills.
And that’s Limitless’ main crux, following Eddie as he traverses the pitfalls and dangers of being little more than an addict. Really, the movie is much like any other film about addiction, with the main shift being that the addict in question is likable and that we’re supposed to root for both him and his addiction. There’s something perverse and interesting about a movie whose ultimate point is that drugs aren’t all that bad as long as you stay away from shifty characters and remember moderation.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t really add up to much, since none of this is used as satire or indictment. There are tons of targets the film could’ve gone after—pharmaceutical companies, drug culture, the glamorization of chemical addiction, even politicians—but Burger has little use for this. Instead, he’s out to slather the film in style and camera tricks, an approach which works for the most part, but too often feel as if it’s from the David Fincher school of window dressing. It’s a movie that desperately needs some mood—maybe some dread or a good helping of Polanski-esque paranoia—but Limitless is more concerned with polish. Because of this, we get an entertaining enough thriller that holds up as long as you don’t examine it too much. Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving a drug, violence including disturbing images, sexuality and language.