Even a film like Limitless has its limitations. It tries to deny them, overlook them, and even, at times incorporate them, but they are there.
Limitless is the story of Eddie Mora, played by Bradley Cooper, a way down on his luck writer who suffers from writer’s block and general malaise. After running into his former brother in law and being given magic beans in the form of a clear pill, Eddie miraculously pulls it together. Once the pill’s intended effects get Eddie’s full attention, he becomes obsessed with them, even after the side effects kick in.
Cooper turns in a great performance, despite the terribly uneven material he was given. A modern take on “Flowers for Algernon”, Limitless takes the brain manipulation motif and infuses it with Red Bull and sound bytes, to appeal to a new generation. Instead of a fresh and intriguing story, you wind up with a horribly frenetic one, with overindulgent narration. Jumping from one locale to another, in order to seem wordly and sophisticated, the story never stays put long enough to have any real impact. The ongoing narrative, provided by Cooper, is incredibly distracting and, more than anything, is insulting to the viewer. All the narration does is rob audiences of the opportunity to make intuitive leaps. Then again, most films with that much narration are guilty of the same crime against cinematic integrity.
As the story jumps around, belaboring the most insignificant details ad nauseum, story threads come and go, and eventually disappear. There is a story surrounding Eddie’s novel, which gets dropped almost immediately. Then there is the murder mystery that never gets solved. Subplots that appear tertiary to the rest of the story, just come to an end with no resolution. Looking back at the film, I want to say it was ambitious, but really it was just in serious need of some Adderall.
There are a number of montage scenes that are disguised as interesting stylistic choices, in order to show Eddie’s progress and eventual descent. Adding to the quick storytelling and thin plot, the montages again rob viewers of the natural progression of the story. There are scenes that are glossed over in favor of superfluous chase scenes and incomprehensibly quick social gatherings.
There are so many missed opportunities in Limitless. Through Eddie’s new found abilities, he opens doors and establishes new relationships, which turn into micro-interactions and temporary opportunities. Rather than explore these new found associations, we get moments of Eddie recalling Sunday Afternoon Kung Fu Theater, with enough acuity to bring down a mob of muggers. The story goes from being a modern day “Flowers for Algernon” (which was made into an excellent film called Charly starring Cliff Robertson as the titular character) to NBC’s Chuck. The movie was already hanging at the intersection of Unimaginative Street and Archetype Boulevard, but to create a film with such obvious correlations to other projects, signals a lack of capability and desire to create something original. With a meatier story and more substantial and honest moments, Limitless could have had it all, like it’s main character. Unfortunately, the choice was made to show the superficial side of things, which had me at my limit half an hour in.