Friday, 27 May 2011

Film Review | Limitless

So there's this pill.

NZT, they call it. It's not FDA approved or anything, but it's not quite a street drug, either: NZT will run you about $800 a pop, after all, and what it does - one of its various effects, I should say - is to give you access to the 80% of your brain you aren't otherwise able to take advantage of. Swallow one down and your memory improves a hundredfold, your processing power skyrockets, and colours seem that much brighter. Pretty cool, right?

Well, it is until you start losing great whacks of time. And God forbid you ever run out of pills! That way lies all the aches and pains of withdrawal, up to and including an untimely full stop on the ass-end of your existence. And though the prohibitive expense of the drug might discriminate, its effects are the same whether you're from the corners or Wall Street proper...

...which just so happens to be where one yuppie user, Bradley Cooper off of Alias as Eddie Morra, ends up when in a series of unfortunate events he comes into quite the quantity of NZT: flying high with the high-flyers, including Robert DeNiro as moneyman Carl Van Loon.

Don't see this movie for the performances. Don't not see this movie for the performances, either - the leads are able enough, and their support, in the shape of Abbie Cornish and a dowdy Anna Friel, is fine. But only that.

I went into Limitless not at all sure about Bradley Cooper as a leading man, and I've come out of it with my opinion unscathed. Though he equips himself well enough as a superior sneerer in the Wall Street scenes - which would put me in mind of The Social Network if The Social Network hadn't been brilliant, or Limitless had been more than the fluff it is - he's significantly less convincing as the greasy no-luck novelist pre-NZT, and one thing cancels the other out.

Nor can technological trickery save the day. The technique on display in the opening titles, and on several other occasions throughout Limitless, whereby director Neil Burger employs a sort of "endless zoom" in the mode of experimental French filmmaker Gaspar Noe, proves nauseating rather than neat; a fancy trick better left to those who can do it justice, or else on the cutting room floor.

Equally as successful - which is to say not terribly, in truth - are those very David Fincher moments where text and numbers are overlaid upon the world, presumably to represent Cooper's new and much improved perception of the world. This isn't even a new trick, yet still it sticks out like a sore thumb.

But on balance, I'd say... see this movie. Fluff or not, it rolls with a interesting idea ripped right out of the work of one Philip K. Dick - though the credits insist Limitless is based on a book by Alan Glynn, and perhaps it is. And while it goes in all the directions you imagine it will, and the destination is a tacked-on epilogue so pat as to seem an insult to our intelligence, so too does the ride have its exhilarating moments scattered here and there throughout its hundred minutes; moments when you can see past Limitless' lukewarm script and tepid direction, and the liquid crystal purity of the pill-popping premise stops you dead in your tracks.

Would that those moments were higher on director Neil Burger's list of priorities. As is, your patience need not be limitless to take some passing pleasure in this popcorn-friendly and surprisingly prescient irrelevance... but it sure wouldn't hurt.

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