Thursday 22 February 2018

Movies: Limitless * * *

(15A, General release)

Bradley Cooper is outshone by Robert De Niro
Bradley Cooper is outshone by Robert De Niro

Paul Whitington

For Dublin writer Alan Glynn, the arrival of Limitless in the multiplexes must seem a little surreal. It has been 10 years since his novel The Dark Fields was optioned by a studio, but such are the labyrinthine ways of Hollywood that it has taken this long to arrive on the screen.

It does so in some style, because Neil Burger's Limitless is a flashy, clever-clever, glibly entertaining thriller that indulges in visual pyrotechnics whenever there's the slightest excuse.

Bradley Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a writer who hits the big time with the help of a special drug. There's an irritating fashion these days for starting films at or near the climax in order to grab the attentions of we goldfish-brained punters, and working backwards from there.

When we first meet Eddie he's standing on the ledge of a skyscraper balcony wearing a thousand-dollar suit: someone's trying to break down his front door, and he's about to jump. Flash backwards a year or so and Eddie is a scruffy, failed writer shuffling through the streets of New York.

Eddie has received a contract from a publisher to write a book, but has the attention span of a gnat and spends most of his time drinking. But his life takes an apparent change for the better when he runs into his ex-brother-in-law Vernon Gant (Johnny Whitworth), who offers him a pill that will change his outlook.

Although initially reluctant, Eddie pops the pill and instantly his state of perception is radically enhanced. The drug allows Eddie's brain to work at 1,000 miles an hour: he can solve complex mathematical and financial problems in seconds, and finds writing an absolute doddle. That night he bashes out the first two chapters of his book, but when he wakes the next morning he finds the magic inspiration has gone.

When he tracks down his brother-in-law to get more pills, he finds Vernon dead, shot through the head. Before the police arrive Eddie finds Vernon's stash of the wonder drug and disappears. The new 'enhanced Eddie' finishes his book, becomes a scintillatingly witty socialite and starts making money on the stock market.

He does so well that he attracts the attention of a Wall Street tycoon called Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), who is impressed by Eddie's uncanny acumen and offers him a huge financial opportunity. But there's a problem: Eddie borrowed $100,000 from a Russian mobster on the way up -- now he wants it back.

The drug in Limitless is, I suppose, a metaphor for all sorts of things -- greed, ambition, the absence of religion, whatever you're having yourself. The film's premise is a good one, and Burger approaches the task of representing Eddie's drug rushes with gusto. His cameras rush blurrily through the streets of New York, fish-eye lenses plunge through darkened rooms, ghostly figures haunt the edges of the frame. This gives us a memorable sense of Eddie's addiction, but his overall character remains something of a blur.

Cooper is perhaps a bit too bland for the role: when placed beside a coasting De Niro he's quickly overwhelmed, and Eddie's meteoric rise teeters too often into unintentional comedy. His drug-fuelled insights are disappointingly unenlightening, and if this is what using your brain's full potential turns you into, I'll stick with my goldfish set-up, thanks very much.

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