Andy Bockelman: Drug thriller ‘Limitless’ crashes too soon

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

'Limitless'

2 out of 4 stars

105 minutes

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish and Anna Friel.

Now playing at the West Theatre and Steamboat Springs’ Carmike Chief Plaza 4.

For those of us who grew up in the “Just Say No” era, it may be weird to see a movie that maintains that drugs are indeed the answer to life’s problems, but watching a film like “Limitless,” it’s impossible to take away any other moral.

Sorry, Nancy Reagan.

Struggling scribe Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) has the world’s worst case of writer’s block. Unable to find motivation to start his book, his days have been little more than killing time.

Soon, the block spills over into the rest of his life, as his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) dumps him and he’s about to be evicted from his apartment.

Running into his shady, former brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth) is the last thing he needs, but the reformed drug pusher has a new kind of substance he’s peddling, and offering it to Eddie especially.

NZT-48 is an experimental pill designed to enhance the synapses of the human brain to unleash the user’s full mental potential. Within moments after ingestion, Eddie’s intelligence skyrockets, allowing him to improve his life drastically.

While the first taste may be free, keeping up with the regimen comes at an increasingly pricey cost, as Eddie finds that there are plenty of people who will kill to get a taste.

But, that’s nothing compared to what could happen to him if his stash suddenly runs out.

Although he’s always coasted on his looks, Cooper has always given off an impression of subtle intellect, which makes him the model choice to play, Eddie, who’s naturally intelligent but just needs a little boost to reach his capability.

Still, it’s a little hard to swallow that the all-important first step on the path to a four-digit IQ is the need to shave and run a comb through your hair.

Cornish is okay as his lady, Lindy, who quickly rethinks severing ties with Eddie once she sees him in action, mowing down accomplishments like finishing a brilliant novel in four days and making millions by analyzing stock patterns with ease.

Such actions bring in industrialist Carl Van Loon, played with a “Meet the Parents” aura of menace by Robert De Niro.

It’s not quite up to his threatening turn as Al Capone in “The Untouchables,” but as far as villain roles go, the iconic actor could do worse as the money-grubbing mogul who shows an interest in Eddie and realizes how much he is worth. Though that doesn’t mean the golden goose won’t try to fly on his own without a fight.

But, as the NZT starts to dwindle, he starts to go through some disastrous withdrawal, bringing him back in touch with his ex-wife (Anna Friel), whose life has been ruined by becoming too reliant on the miracle drug.

We get the full experience of an overdose in the look and feel of the film, starting with Eddie’s first pill pop — marked by a much more saturated and lucid cinematography compared to the drab environment when he’s drug-free — moving on to his self-prescribed increases of consumption that result in blacking out for hours at a time and seeing duplicates of himself running around when he’s conscious.

The process through which Eddie starts analyzing the world around borders on fascinating as he not only learns new things but draws on long-forgotten memories such as a kung fu marathon he viewed as a kid, which becomes quite helpful when he must fend off a violent gang in the subway.

The initial premise of the movie, based on Alan Glynn’s “The Dark Fields,” is a captivating one, setting us up for a look at a world where truly anything is possible if you put your mind to it and takes it more seriously than something like “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.”

But, even as Eddie lives the good life counting cards, rubbing elbows with brainiacs and soaking up every language on the planet, it all inevitably comes to the pursuit of money, as mind-numbing and soul-crushing an endeavor as you could hope for, even if you aren’t on the same medication as our hero.

Once he gets into the business world, the flow of the movie stops short and lurches around like a junkie looking for a place to sleep off his latest indulgence, a fate that of course befalls Eddie before too long.

A nice little epilogue gives us the idea that NZT could be used for good, but the journey seems like it might not be worth the side effects.

While the movie’s a bit of a thinker and worth a glance, the title of “Limitless” is quite ironic, as less than halfway through the story it hits a ceiling and never recovers. No pill in the world can fix that, even one that looks like it should be mixed in with a package of Smarties.

No pun intended.

Now playing at the West Theatre and Steamboat Springs’ Carmike Chief Plaza 4.

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