by Ryan Hill
In the summer of 2009, “The Hangover” was on its way to surpassing “Beverly Hills Cop” as the all-time highest-grossing R-rated comedy and Bradley Cooper was on top of the world. Everybody was trying to capitalize on his success. Studios released long-shelved films he’d co-starred in, such as duds “All About Steve” and “Case 39.” Cooper tried to use his newfound fame to become a leading man by starring in the underperforming (and underrated) “A-Team,” then took a supporting role in the revolting “Valentine’s Day.” Now comes “Limitless,” a drab, generic thriller that makes it clear that “The Hangover Part II” can’t get here soon enough.
Cooper stars as Eddie Morra, a disheveled mess of a man whose appearance is excused because he’s a writer, one with severe writer’s block at that. Then his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) kicks him to the curb. Things are looking pretty bleak for Eddie until he runs into his former brother-in-law who offers him a pill that will help make all his problems go away. Next thing you know, colors are brighter, life is clearer and Eddie’s sporting an IQ in the four-digit range.
Eddie does exactly what anyone with “limitless” abilities would do: He gets rich. Quick. So quick that he borrows $200,000 from a loan shark because he’s in such a rush to start making even more money. Eddie’s sudden fortune draws the attention of Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), who hires Eddie to help with a merger.
For someone as smart as Eddie while he’s on the pill, he sure does some stupid things. Such as forgetting to pay back the loan shark even after he’s made millions. Naturally, the loan shark gets a hold of the pill and hounds Eddie for more of them, even though Eddie’s stash is starting to run out.
Why a director as talented as Neil Burger (“The Illusionist”) would opt for a generic “pay up or else” plot instead of focusing on the numerous possibilities presented by a premise like “Limitless” is baffling, to say the least. Eddie talks about “doing great things” throughout the movie, but never really acts on them. Even the scenes with De Niro are, like most of De Niro’s career over the past decade, a waste. It’s as if De Niro is in the movie to ensure the film has a two-hour running time and little else.
The prospects of a movie about a guy who takes a pill to become so smart he makes Albert Einstein seem like a knucklehead are endless. But instead of exploring what would happen to someone with that kind of power beyond making a boatload of money, “Limitless” is stuck in a kind of placebo effect, doing nothing at all when it could’ve been a smart, taut exploration of what it really means to be a god among men.
Grade: 2/4 Stars