PLOT: A struggling writer (Bradley Cooper) gets access to a super-drug that artificially elevates his IQ to genius level.
REVIEW: LIMITLESS is a mess. I guess I should have expected as much given the shifting release dates and hasty re-titling (with THE DARK FIELDS its original, more appropriate title) but I held out hope, as the premise is a good one. LIMITLESS could have been a nifty, OUTER LIMITS/TWILIGHT ZONE-style thriller, but the problem is that it just can’t figure out what it wants to be. Black comedy? Drama? Thriller? Horror? Action? It tries to be all these genres, but doesn’t even come close to succeeding.
To give LIMITLESS some credit, the first forty minutes of the film are actually pretty solid. It starts off great, with Cooper dangling on the edge of his apartment high-rise, with thugs trying to break into his apartment. In true noir-style, he flashes back onto the events that led to his current predicament, after a nifty set of opening credits that zoom us around New York City. This technique gave my buddy a headache, but I dug it- although it should have been restricted to the credits, as it gets used enough to be grating by the fifth or sixth time we zoom through the city.
Bradley Cooper makes an appealing leading man, and he’s believable as both the unkempt wannabe writer he starts off as, and the charismatic superman he becomes later. Director Neil Burger (who showed a lot of promise with THE ILLUSIONIST a few years ago) uses an interesting technique where, when off the drug, the film has a de-saturated, cold look- before transitioning to bold, warm colors once he ingests the drug. There’s also a cool sequence where Cooper gets attacked by some thugs, and fends them off remembering a Bruce Lee fight-scene from WAY OF THE DRAGON.
Sadly, once Cooper goes off the drug for the first time, the film grinds to a halt. A subplot involving Cooper’s memory lapses (and possible murderousness) while on the drug goes nowhere, as does a stupid bit involving his ex-wife, played by Anna Friel, which adds nothing to the film. The film REALLY goes off the rail during a brief bit involving his love interest, played by Abbie Cornish, where she wields a five year-old wearing skates as a deadly weapon (don’t ask). This bit was enough to almost make me totally write-the film off (and seems destined to become a YouTube joke a la WICKER MAN within a few months), but the film actually recovers a bit during the third act. Then, it once again crashes and burns during the idiotic conclusion, which seems tacked on and resolves absolutely nothing that’s been happening over the previous 100 minutes. It almost seems like the filmmakers couldn’t decide how to end it, so they just didn’t.
As for the prominently billed Robert De Niro, I wrote a “Dear So-and-So” column about him a week back, and LIMITLESS perfectly demonstrates the lackluster roles he’s been getting, and the lazy phoned-in performances he’s been giving as a result. Firstly- it’s a very minor role, with him playing a shady Wall Street big-shot that uses Cooper as a way to make billions and De Niro’s talents are wasted.
It’s really too bad LIMITLESS ended up being such a mess. There really was the potential for a good film there, and who knows- maybe there’s a good version lying on a cutting-room floor somewhere. Suffice to say, this isn’t it.