Limitless (2011) Review (PG-13)

SPOILER ALERT!  BEYOND HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!!! And lots of ’em…

This is a movie that could’ve been written by my dad. He used to say “You need to take you one o’ them smart pills” usually after I or one of the other kids in my neighborhood  would do something ridiculously stupid. Maybe the writer was inspired by his(or her) own father with a similar catch phrase.

The story is of a completely unsuccessful would be writer, Eddie Morra (played by Bradley Cooper). He doesn’t really write anything, however, so I guess that’s one of his problems. He lives like a slob. He used to be on drugs. He’s got a lady friend that he likes but the problem is she knows he’s a loser. He can’t pay the rent and the landlord wants him out… Or more specifically the landlord’s wife wants him out. One day he runs into Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), his ex-brother in law (who also used to be a drug pusher). The guy says he’s no longer a pusher but within a minute or two he’s offering Morra a drug that will solve all of his problems, Morra declines, but Vernon gives him a sample anyway to think about, and asks to come by and see him at his apartment.

Of course, Eddie soon takes the drug. Within seconds he’s a changed man. His concentration is immediately focused. He remembers everything he’s ever seen or  read. The world lights up, literally. The filmmakers shoot everything in drab colors when he’s not taking the smart pill. When he takes it, the cinematography is sharper…. brighter… more colors. The first thing he does as the smarter, more focused Eddie is defuse the situation with his landlord’s wife. He wows her with his newfound suaveness. He impresses her with his knowledge of the subject she’s going to school for. And his solution to his rent problem? Sleep with her. Brilliant! Rent problem solved! Then he realizes he has to stop living like a slob. Even more brilliant! Then he writes his book overnight.

The next day he wakes up a damned fool, again, but he takes his book in to his publisher. Then he goes to see Vernon like any junkie would.  Vernon has been severely beaten evidenced by his face which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I’ll say why in a minute. He explains what the pill is. It’s a new designer drug (not yet FDA approved) by a pharmaceutical corporation he works for. Eddie asks for more. Vernon replies “Okay for plot convenience, I need you to go down and pick up my dry cleaning and some breakfast first.” Okay, he didn’t say the first part, but that’s what it said to me. So he does what he’s told needing more of the drug and when he comes back the door is ajar, Eddie has been murdered. At that point I was scratching my head because he’s been beaten I’m assuming by the fellow that will pop up later in the film, who is looking for the drugs. This guy KNOWS Vernon has them, so why would first beats him up, leaves and comes back to kill him is baffling. And why Eddie would hang out at his pad when he knows a guy’s going to come back and kill him… Anyway…

Eddie calls the cops, then decides to look for the drugs before they get there. If he had taken one of the smart pills he could have been smart enough to know to search, THEN call. So he shockingly has a brain-fart and finds the hidden stash just as the cops arrive. I have a real problem with his actions here. For one, I would think that  the next time he took a smart pill, he would realize  “Someone killed Vernon and there is an extremely high  likelihood he was killed for this drug. I am under police investigation since I was there right after he was killed, Ergo, it’s not going to be hard to figure out that I might be the one that took their drugs.” It never even crosss his mind. I’m just a dumb guy and I could figure that out.

After a police interrogation, he’s back on the pill again. It makes him smart enough to realize if he cuts his hair & doesn’t dress dumpy it’ll make him presentable. Then he’s living healthier (he’s now smart enough to know smoking’s bad for him… Brilliant!), he’s making money at card games (the writer once saw Rain Man), and he’s pickin’ up the ladies. This is where I REALLY don’t get this movie. I thought the film was going to be about the idea of  taking a pill that makes you much more intellligent, but the film seems to be a gleeful lowbrow fantasy about a man that takes drugs to expand his arrogance and greed. And the real sin here is that it’s not written very intelligently. Sure it looks slick. It has a nice soundtrack. It’s glossy. But everything Eddie does is self serving.

I’m not saying the desire to ‘have things’ is a wrong one, but the film is ultimately just wish fulfillment entertainment. The best idea that this guy can come up with is to make a lot of money or impress people with his ‘smartness’. This led to more plot holes, too. He’s shown to be winning big gambling which means he’s making money. He jet sets with models flying all over the world and this takes money. He has a book deal, so again, he MUST be making some money.  But when it comes to him using his ideas about stocks to quickly gain more money, he’s only shown to have the money he stole from Vernon (when he took the drug stash). And even though he’s making money playing the market at a ridiculous clip, it’s not good enough for him, so he does what any other genius would do when he needs a loan. He goes to see the local Russian Mafia. Right then and there, you kind of expect there to be complications and can kind of start writing the movie yourself.

So anyway, he hooks up with Lindy (Abbie Cornish) the girl that he has a jones for that was blowing him off earlier. She is much more impressed by his new haircut and that now he seems to have a lot more money. he even intimidates her with his big brain. This is when he simultaneously starts noticing he’s being followed by Mr. Creepy Guy for some reason and that he’s experiencing side effects from the drug. Why Mr Creepy Man doesn’t try to kill him right then and there is only explained by plot convenience, also. The rest of the film he attacks on sight like some rabid monkey.  Edie just ignores the guy because he’s about to get lucky, though. Lindy later finds him wandering in the hallway (after they’ve slept together) not knowing where he’s at. there’s the beginnings of the side effects. Flowers For Algernon, this ain’t, though. This is pure power trip. You’re not going to find any morale of the story here. I’m sure the writer completely is behind all of the ‘roid users in sports, but I digress.

Here’s where DeNiro’s Carl Van Loon enters the picture. Van Loon is a billionaire and if Eddie can impress him with stock advice, then he can REALLY make more money. When an important meeting with the two comes, he decides to try getting through it without the drug. Brilliant (!) since he knows nothing about the stock market without the drug. While he squirms through their meeting he’s distracted by TV news story that shows yet another woman that he’s slept with the night before has been murdered and he can’t remember if he murdered her. This sub-plot was never resolved, because hey! If the protagonist of the movie murdered some girl it isn’t important. It’s just a minor detail that doesn’t matter. Right?

So his ex-wife comes to see him. She warns him that the drug has side sffects and she is obviously feeling those effects. She was on the drug, too and now she can’t concentrate on anything, she’ sick and she knows if you keep taking it, you’ll die. To complicate things the Russian Maffia come to shake him down for his money. You’d have thought the smart pill would have given him the valuable insight that when you borrow money from the mafia and you have the money to pay them back with, then that needs to be up at the top of your priority list. It isn’t, because once again the writer needed a reason for the mafia goon to want the drug. So while shaking Eddie down, the goon sees that he’s got a smart pill and naturally he takes it.

Just when you think the film can’t get any sillier, Eddie starts having withdrawal symptoms. He sends Lyndy to fetch his pills because he’s incapacitated. She’s disappointed by the revelation that he’s taking the smart pills, but does as he asks. When she’s on her way back to him, Mr. Creepy Man shows up. After killing a couple of guys in the park, he corners her behind a cluster of trees. She’s hiding and the guy stops for like 5 minutes at a walkway and just looks in one direction. Then the other. He won’t leave because the writer needs her to take one of the pills.  She calls Eddie and his solution to her problem: Take one of the pills. The sequence that follows is one of the STUPIDEST scenes I have witnessed in any film that I have ever watched. Instead of just waiting for the guy to leave, she breaks for an ice skating rink. There are hundreds of people around (no cops, though) and there’s this guy chasing  her with a long bloody blade in his hand. Her brilliant idea is to run (Jennifer Garner style with the karate chop hands, determined face and the weird deliberate breaths) to the center of the rink where a father is skating with his daughter. She times it so that when she reaches the child her assailant is about to catch her, but she swings the child around and cuts his face with the girl’s skate. Then Lyndy runs off and the guy is incapacitated by the cut on his face. Brilliant! But not one single person thinks to intercede having witnessed some crazy guy chasing a woman across the rink with a blo0dy knife. Of course, if he’s arrested the movie ends right there.

Lindy admonishes Eddie for the use of the drug. She won’t take any more. At this point you think the writer is setting up an ending where Eddie learns there is no shortcut to success without paying a price. This isn’t that movie. Eddie takes the drug to a lab tech that works for Van Loon. He wants him to synthesize the drug. Find out what it’s made of. Meanwhile, the Magia guy wants more of the drug and he’ll blackmail Eddie (and worse) if he doesn’t get it. Eddie gives him a few to get him off his back. He’s also arrested for that earlier murder of the girl he slept with. But he’s not identified in the police lineup, so he goes scott-free. Yay, Eddie!  The Mafie guy (much smarter now) reappears to make another threat. Eddie is on the verge of a business deal going down, though so he’s not worried. Van Loon is awaiting a merger deal with a former competitor. It turns out, though that the rival was only a rival because he was on the smart pill, but the side FX a have overcome him and he’s in a coma. His wife arrives in his place and tells them that the deal is on hold. Eddie recognizes Mr Creepy Guy as the  wife’s driver.

 

Eddie also realizes that his stash is missing from his coat and even without the smart pill he can figure out that his lawyer that accompanied him to the police station is the also the lawyer of the man that is about to enter into the merger with them. Or was about to, since they are now calling it off. Just as he realizes this, the mafia goons show up wanting the drug. You would think that even with normal intelligence a phone call to the police might have helped while mafia goons are cutting through your door with a power saw. Anyway, I’ll skip past the events where Eddie kills the mafia goon, drinks his blood to gain super powers again and then kills his two goons. Yes. He drinks another guys blood.

The business rival of Van Loon dies. Eddie figures out that the lawyer kept the drug. He shows up and explains to Mr Creepy MAn and the two of them murder the lawyer and get the drug back. Eddie’s book is then finally released and he’s a huge success on his own. he doesn’t need that Van Loon guy anymore. It’s at this point that you get the idea that the writer resents the business world, hence the Van loon name. He’s loony. Get it? By now Eddie has tweaked the drug and has now permanently brilliant and has become a completely evil prick. He’s now running for President and cuts Van Loon (a campaign supporter) loose after cutting him verbally down to size and threatening to murder him. Then he has lunch with with his girl Lindy and he’s riding high. On top of the world. The end.

Limitless did make ME feel smarter, since I could see the plot holes the writer didn’t. I also predicted the story’s events before the protagonist who never did (and who I really didn’t like that much). You’d think that the world’s smartest man could have come up with better ideas than going to a loan shark for quick cash, realize that the people who killed his pusher (the ex-brother-in-law) would be looking for him eventually, or finding a better way of solving his problems. Or find a cure to cancer or something instead of feeding his own ego. It’s like the writer thinks that intelligence and wisdom stand apart exclusively.  You would also think that with higher intelligence he would come to a conclusion that society cannot sustain itself on corruption.

This was often unintentionally funny at times. Surely this was written by an extreme left winger. That could only explain the premise of a guy getting SMARTER through DRUGS, plus being sympathetic for a writer protagonist who becomes wealthy overnight while displaying eventual disdain for someone (De Niro) who probably earned his the hard way. Limitless is omewhat subversive, has too many dangling plot threads and in the end is just stupid, However, the film looks slick enough to keep those with short attention spans from noticing the glaring flaws. I was looking for a science fiction ‘what if’. What I got was an amoral ego trip by a dumb guy that becomes a smart jerk through drug use. And for me, that’s a wast of my time.

2 of 5

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