Limitless is a film that speeds you through it’s premise and plot so quickly that you don’t really have time to think about what you’re seeing. It’s a fast, slick piece of Hollywood sci-fi, and like most fast slick Hollywood sci-fi, it’s as dumb as a bag of spanners.
Spoilers start here, so beware. Bradley Cooper (he of the blue eyes and intoxicating smile that sends girls nuts allegedly, I wouldn’t know, no interest, but that smile is very winning doncha think?) plays a writer, Eddie Mora, who is down on his luck despite having a book deal and a big flat in Manhattan. Most writers on their uppers would cheerfully kill to be in the position Eddie gripes about, but realism is not the point. Anyway, Eddie mopes and whines in a voiceover that takes the place of any kind of decent narrative flow, loses his girlfriend and generally tries to persuade us that his life is hell, poor lambkin.
Then he bumps into his ex brother-in-law, a gent who is in the recreational pharma business. Said dealer-in-law has a new drug to offer, a clear drop of knowledge. It’s a chemical that will allow Eddie to access all of his brain, not the 10% that the rest of us have to bump along with. He pops the pill, everything goes wide-angle, and Eddie becomes a kind of superman.
From here, it’s pretty predictable. The dealer-in-law dies, leaving his pills in a place that Eddie sniffs out in a New York Minute. With the pill, Eddie can write a book in three days, predict the stock market, become a business guru. The pill is everything, so the plot does everything it can to ensure that at moments of crisis he has to do without. Also, the comedown of an untested accelerator like this has side effects. Like death.
As Eddie’s supplies run low, he becomes a commodity, and a wanted man by all the wrong kinds of people. There’s an awful lot of running around, and some really rather creative violence.
The thing that struck me immediately about Eddie Mora is how dumb he is. Would the smartest man in the world go to a Russian gangster for seed money, and then forget to immediately pay him back and move out of his “crummy” apartment so the guy couldn’t find him?
And he doesn’t seem to pay attention to any kind of danger signs. The effects of the enhancer NZT change with every dose. Psychedelic blackouts and double-imaging would be the kind of warning signal that would lead me to scale waaaay back on the dosage. Not Eddie, who gobbles pills like they’re going out of fashion, from a bag that always seems to be half full. His attempts to synthesise the drug are brushed away in a single scene that seems to suggest that the only way to do it would be with potentially lethal human trials – trials that are conveniently forgotten about in a shruggy nipple twist of an ending.
The idea that we use a tiny proportion of our brain’s capacity is, of course, nonsense. Watching a fast, slick Hollywood sci-fi movie and expecting the science to be anything but half-baked is simply going to lead to a disappointing night out. Limitless is not disappointing as long as you use less than 0.01 of your mental capacity. Like the leading man, it’s good-looking and dumb. Director Neil Burger throws enough crazy lens effects into the mix to keep things interesting. Abbie Cornish is wasted as the girlfriend, which is a shame as she lights up the screen when she’s around. Robert De Niro clearly needed the cash, but didn’t feel the need to do more than phone in a villainous businessman performance.
There are some fascinating questions to be asked about what would happen if the human mind could be accelerated. Limitless is not the place to go looking for them. Eddie is content with a very limited view of where his capabilities could lead him, bouncing from simple get-rich-quick schemes to the dumbest idea of all – becoming President of the United States. You don’t have to be the smartest man in the room to know that the White House is not the place to look if you want to get true power. A hedge fund manager with a four-figure IQ? Now that’s a scary prospect.