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August 17, 2011

Review: Limitless

The first ten minutes of this movie seem designed for me. An unkempt, unhealthy-looking writer named Eddie Morra -- "someone without a drug or alcohol problem shouldn't look like this," he says in narration -- with a crappy apartment and inability to write his book or keep his girlfriend. By chance, he's met on the street by an old passing acquaintance -- who immediately asks "Are you living on the street?" -- who was once a drug dealer and now claims to be a pharmaceutical rep.

The guy gives the haggard writer a brain-expanding drug, NZT...

...and suddenly writes half his book overnight, then cleans his apartment, gets a haircut, and learns French and Italian. Oh, and he bangs everything in sight. Because now he's just mesmerizing. And also, because he's suddenly lighted all the time by flattering golden light, rather than the jangly wired blue-white light he'd previously been surrounded by.

Waking up the next day with a Charlie type hangover -- Gee, I'm not that smart again -- he goes to see the guy who gave him the pill, to get more. To do anything to get more.

That guy, you'll not be surprised to learn (no spoiler alert, geeze, what did you think was going to happen?), has been murdered.

But Eddie wants those pills, and searches the apartment until he finds a Great Big Huge Stash of them.

The first half hour of the movie is fantasy wish-fulfillment porn, and it's reasonably watchable, as that sort of thing usually is. (To this day, I am certain that John Grisham's The Firm became a runaway best seller only because the first 100 pages were entirely about the huge sums of money and luxe apartments being offered to the young fresh-out-of-law-school lawyer.)

This is the part where Unanswered Questions begin. Cliff diving in some Riviera paradise, he realizes he has a Purpose and he can somehow Improve Humanity, but the movie never gets around to sharing his plan with us. Honestly, I didn't even notice this until the end, but now I've seen the end, so I know that I don't know his Great Piercing Insight As To How To Save The World.

Conflict and Danger and Goal now established (even if not shared with the audience), the story proper begins, but it's not really a story. It's more like a series of interesting, intersecting events. Which isn't a complete slam, as I do say they are "interesting" events.

Let me explain. If you're doing this movie, based on what I've told you so far, where do you go next?

You might go to the cliched place. That the Villain is the Corporation producing this pill, and they will Stop At Nothing to have their stash back.

You might then figure, "Hey, that 'chance meeting' on the street wasn't chance, maybe," and decide the Corporation set out to give Eddie the drug, because they want to test him. (Let's say he's a good test subject, for whatever reason.)

Then you might have Eddie fleeing the Corporation's goons, but eventually captured. And of course brought into a Polished Steel Laboratory, and strapped to an operating chair, and given truth serum, interrogated to find out who else knows about the drug.

And at this point the Corporate Scientist and Eddie could have a Philosophical Argument about Things Men Was Not Meant To Experiment With, and/or Whether All People Should Share In This Bounty Or It Should Be Restricted To The Elite, and so on.

Okay, that's all a cliche. I admit that. But at least that sort of story would answer some questions the movie never addresses.

By the end of the movie, I still did not know any of the following (indeed, no one in the movie even thought these questions interesting enough to ask about):

1. Why did that guy on the street have the drug at all? Who was he working for?

2. Where do these drugs come from? Who makes them? This is an especially important question because while Eddie gets a big stash, it is not big enough to be permanent; he needs more. So, he would naturally use his "four digit IQ" to find the company making the pills, and try to secure a permanent supply. But he doesn't.

3. Why are these drugs not being more widely sold? Bear in mind, the title "Limitless" could refer to their value -- how much would you pay to be the You You Always Wanted To Be? Further, you take ten of these pills for ten days, you can yourself make $10 million dollars in day-trading. (Eddie makes $12.5 in seven days, I think.) So what would be the value of a pill? You can literally charge a million dollars a pill and people would find that price economically reasonable. So -- why aren't they being sold? And why was loser-ish Eddie given a million dollar pill in the first place?

4. This has nothing to do with my hypothetical plot, but there is a very significant murder that happens in the movie, and the identity of the perpetrator is very important. For reasons I won't explain. So who killed that person? No idea. The movie doesn't tell you, and you have two perfectly good suspects. You could go either way on it.

Now, the movie avoids the cliched plotline I've outlined. That, I suppose, is good. But the good thing about that cliche plotline I suggest is that by establishing the movie is all about NZT -- where it came from, who it's given to, why Eddie got it -- the movie spends its time naturally answering those questions.

But in avoiding that cliched outline it goes spinning off in directions which, while admirably unexpected, take us well away from answering the early mysteries posed in the set-up.

These are questions I have, but because the movie avoids them completely, maybe this is just me thinking of the Cliched Plot and resisting deviations from it.

On the plus side, because it spins into unexpected (if somewhat random and unsatisfying) directions, I also can't say the movie was "predictable."

It's good to see a movie that doesn't go Exactly. Where. You. Expected. It. To Go. At Every Turn.

Even if you wind up questioning why they chose to take the route they did.

Overall, I guess I give it two and a half stars. It's not boring, it's not dumb. Bradley Cooper is pretty good, and Robert DeNiro is good for a change. (He sleepwalks as usual, but he does what's needed with his small role.)

It's a little original, even, just because it doesn't seem to understand what this sort of movie is supposed to be like. I think on the whole maybe that's a good thing.

Though I really would like to know who committed that murder.

I paid $4 for it on Amazon direct video. I think it's worth paying for, if you dig the basic premise.

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posted by Ace at 08:20 PM

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