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Limitless Review: Stagnant and bEMUsing

By Dustin Rowles | Film | March 18, 2011 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | March 18, 2011 |

Limitless has no idea what it’s supposed to be. There’s no action, so it can’t be an action movie. There are no thrills, so that rules out thriller. Bradley Cooper doesn’t wear a cape, so it’s not a superhero movie. There’s no romance, no masked killers, and no psychological games, ruling out those genres, as well. It’s not much of anything, really. It’s about a guy who takes a pill; he gets smart; he uses that intelligence to avoid the consequences of taking a pill to get smart; then Robert DeNiro scowls, the end. Maybe Cooper has started an entire new subgenre of pointlessness, the cinematic sister-cousin to emo. Let’s call it: Emu.

Limitless is builds itself on top of a completely inaccurate myth, the fattest dumbest myth you can pull from the Book of Fat Dumb Myths: Namely, that humans only use 20 percent of their brain. It’s not true. Clearly, Alan Glyn, who wrote the novel, Dark Fields that Limitless is based upon, hasn’t spent a lot of time with Bill Nye the Science Guy. We use all of our brain, just not at the same time. The myth likely stems from early research in which scientist only understood ten percent of our brain’s function. The truth is, humans access different parts of all of our brains at different times. On the other hand, the ability to use the entire brain at once is called a seizure. It may explain Limitless.

In Limitless, Emu C. plays Eddie Morra, a struggling, lazy writer who lacks both ambition and hair gel. Early on in the film, his girlfriend and editor, Lindy (Abbie Cornish), dumps him because Eddie can’t get it up, intellectually speaking. However, he soon bumps into his ex-wife’s brother who offers him a drug that will allow him to access 100 percent of his brain, instead of the 20 percent that the screenwriter obviously used in composing the Limitless script. Coop swallows the pill, cleans up his apartment, fucks the neighbor, gets a haircut, and writes half of his novel before the effects wears off.

Now, he’s dumb again.

So off he goes to find his ex-brother in-law who, oopsie, has been shot dead. Lucky for Eddie, he finds the secret stash of pills before the police arrive. The supply is big enough to last him for about a year, a year in which Eddie uses his newfound knowledge to finish his novel, pick up a few foreign languages, master the piano, and learn all of the intricacies of the stock market, which allows Eddie to turn a small amount of money into millions, but not without the help of a loan shark, a Statham-clone who ends up hooked on the drug, as well.

And to think, with that much intelligence, he could’ve cured cancer. Fuck it. There’s a lot more cinematic drama in playing the stock market, right? The message here, of course, is that the smarter you get, the more superficial you become, but that’s hardly a message worth devoting a stagnant 100 minute narrative to, particularly when half of it is done is voice over.

There are five or six subplots to the story, as well, subplots that were undoubtedly worked through in the novel, but which are introduced and disposed of with haste in Limitless. The murder of the brother-in-law, for instance is barely worked through and then abandoned. The ex-wife (Anna Friel) has one scene; the girlfriend pops in and out of the movie occasionally to remind us that she’s there (not that she’s necessary); and the loan shark circles the perimeter of the narrative, as does a mystery man, who is clearly after the drug. See, once you stop taking the drug, you die. Unless you’re on the drug, and therefore smart enough to figure out how not to die. And if you take too much of the drug, then you have blackouts, chunks of time in which you accidentally murder prostitutes but lose your memory of the murder, which is OK because, in Limitless, nothing really ever comes back to bite you in the Emu ass. Ever.

That’s the larger problem with Limitless besides being completely pointless and lacking for entertainment value: There are no real consequences. That’s the point of the film, but it’s also its biggest weakness. Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) seems to be working toward something, but the stakes are never raised and there is therefore little intensity to the conflicts, what few there are. You can’t even say that the ending is anti-climactic because that would suggest there was momentum in the first place. It’s a genie-in-the-bottle fantasy from which no one ever wakes up. It’s like a Make-a-Wish foundation that grants eternal life as its one wish. What’s the point? Limitless simply meanders for an hour and a half and then stops. The movie never lifts off; like a certain Australian bird that resembles an ostrich, it’s awkward, flightless, and not very pretty.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.