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Majestic Preview: Limitless

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Another Thursday viewing this time.  Let’s talk about Limitless.

Limitless is a non-parable about self-improvement via pharmaceuticals.  Bradley Cooper (The Hangover) plays the lead reformed-schlub and provides copious voice-over narration.  He is a writer who doesn’t write, has lost his girlfriend (played by Abbie Cornish, Bright Star), and has an apartment a few 90-degree days away from becoming a Superfund site.  A chance encounter with his ex-brother-in-law provides the impetus to the story, in which Cooper quaffs his brain pills and normally does really smart things.  Along the way, we see a slightly-stiff Robert De Niro posing as a financial titan who has the capital Cooper needs to implement some ill-defined master plan.

This movie careens from incident from incident, sometimes with a sort of whimsical, willful transgression, and other times with plot-expedient-arbitrariness.  Director Neil Burger is a bit too enamored of tinkering with color palettes and fish-eye sequences, giving the film a techno-dance-club headiness that can be grating.  Burger has pulled the rug out from beneath the viewer before, in The Illusionist from 2006.  While I preferred The Illusionist over its premise-doppleganger from the same year (The Prestige), I’m not sure whether Burger has yet managed to establish a habit of great film execution.

As for the performances, they are adequate.  Cooper’s face, with the help of post-production, manages to span the cognitive gulf that is the dim-witted-non-pharmaceutically-enhanced slob and the wunderkind charmer.  Abbie Cornish plays a solid, mature woman, which is new territory for her, having produced a string of school-girl performances in Bright Star, Sucker Punch, and A Good Year.

Unfortunately, the story of Limitless is bound to irritate people who expect their plots to be well-constructed, sensible, and internally-consistent.  That doesn’t stop the film from being a great popcorn entertainment.  For example, the utterly ludicrous sequence in which Abbie Cornish makes creative use of figure skating to resolve a situation is a great wink to the audience.

Be warned that the following paragraph has several plot spoilers.

The trouble with a device like a smart-pill, is that it’s easy to paint the story into a corner.  Cooper’s magic drug puts him “Fifty moves ahead of everyone”, except for the screenwriter, who must compromise the internal consistency of the film to provide tension and advance the story.  At its worse point, Cooper’s supposed genius mentions that another character came out of nowhere, and yet fails to make the connection that this rival also has access to the wonder pill, while the audience should pick it up immediately.  Also unsatisfying about the story is the fact that there are a few loose ends–what really happened with the girl found dead in the hotel room?  We can only assume Cooper killed her and has escaped consequences, since it’s never established that the antagonists are responsible.  What is Cooper’s master plan, to which he refers in the prologue scene?  All  we can gather that it involves politics from the final scene, but there is no payoff.

Be warned: if you are sensitive to violence, there are a few moments which are gruesome towards the end of the film.

See Also

If you’re interested in a thriller, can tolerate a bit of science fiction, and are willing to pay attention, I recommend checking out Source Code, now in theaters.  Critics have complained about the ending, but it’s nowhere near as egregious as the sloppiness of Limitless.

The best Abbie Cornish role I’ve seen her perform is in 2009’s Bright Star, directed by Jane Campion.  If you have a taste for visually-lush costume drama, it’s definitely worth seeking out.

Having a literary stylishness, featuring morally-ambiguous protagonist(s), and a nice ending plot twist, I can’t help but think Fight Club was the sort of film Limitless was trying to be.  Another Chuck Palahniuk adaptation, Choke, also features Sam Rockwell as another hideous man.

Written by Bill

April 15, 2011 at 12:55 am

Posted in Movies

Tagged with ,

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