The choice this week was between Limitless and Lincoln Lawyer, and since I’d read the book Lincoln Lawyer was based on and therefore already knew the ending, I thought Limitless would be a better use of my time. Limitless is actually based on a book too. In fact, a lot of recent movies have been based on books, other movies, or even common folk tales. I guess they ran out of original screenplays. Anyway the book is called The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn and shares a logline at least with the movie it was made into:
A washed up loser takes a new designer drug to boost his brainpower and is suddenly catapulted into money and power and all the problems that come with it.
The premise of the story is an intriguing one that attracted me and I’m certain will attract a lot of people. We’ve all heard the maxim that we only use 10%-20% of our brains, and this drug, called NZT in the film, purports to let the user access all of it. It’s a great idea, but does the rest of the movie measure up? Were the writers and directors accessing all of their brains when they made it? Obviously not, because it’s got some pretty glaring flaws that downgrade a great idea into a merely okay film.
In the beginning of the film, we’re introduced to Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), our protagonist. Eddie has not written a single word, yet he has somehow managed to secure a book contract. He is also a dirty, scraggily, loser who looks like a hobo and lives in an apartment that should be condemned by the Health Department, and has somehow managed to land a beautiful, intelligent, successful girlfriend named Lindy (Abbie Cornish). Even the movie seems to realize how unbelievable this all is, so Lindy comes to her senses and breaks up with Eddie right at the beginning.
Eddie, you’re dirty and you smell. I’m breaking up with you.
Eddie is now extra depressed and extra poor so when he coincidentally runs into his ex-wife’s drug dealing brother Vernon (Johnny Whitworth) in the street, he only dithers for a few seconds before accepting a mysterious new drug supposedly developed by the pharmaceutical company Vernon works for.
I’m already poor and dirty. Now all I need is to be drug addicted, and I’ll be a real hobo!
Eddie, who is apparently so stupid that he will ingest whatever mysterious substance someone he once barely knew gives him, takes the pill, and it makes him smart. In this movie, intelligence seems to be represented by the lights getting brighter and Eddie seeing everything with fisheye-o-vision. This doesn’t seem particularly helpful to me, but Eddie finds it useful. He finishes his landlord’s college paper, screws her, then writes like 100 pages of his book.
Everyone knows when you write on drugs golden letters rain down from the ceiling.
Naturally Eddie must have more of this drug, NZT, so he goes to see Vernon, who is quickly bumped off by someone else, allowing Eddie to find and steal his whole stash of pills once he regains his wits. Though the pill is supposed to just make you smarter, it’s really more of a prescription for non-specific superpowers. Eddie now suddenly has an interest in being clean and healthy, dressing fashionably, and meeting his deadlines, which has nothing to do with being smart.
Everyone knows dummies never have nice haircuts or fashionable clothes.
In the real world, people hate other people who are smarter than them, but in Eddie’s world, now that he’s capable of lecturing everyone in Swahili on Israeli foreign policy or ancient Chinese philosophy or whatever, suddenly everyone wants to know him and he’s got a phalanx of rich friends falling all over themselves to take him to beach houses and let him drive their expensive cars. This is all fun and games until someone loses an eye… I mean has an epiphany.
This is epiphany face, not peeing in the pool face.
Now Eddie suddenly has a plan to change the world. We don’t get to know what this plan is, only that it requires money, so Eddie abandons writing and turns to stock trading, which his researching superpowers make him awesome at.
Apparently in addition to making you fashionable and clean, NZT also makes you a speed reader.
For some strange reason, though, in the middle of his trading run, he decides to borrow money from a Russian loan shark (Andrew Howard). This is presumably so Eddie can forget to pay him back (I thought Eddie was supposed to be smart?) and then be chased by the Russian mob later in the film, because I can’t think of any other reason for it.
The trailers lead us to believe that there’s a huge conspiracy surrounding the drug and the cranky super-businessman Carl Van Loon (Robert DeNiro) who takes Eddie under his wing, but there really isn’t, at least not that the movie shows. Carl and Eddie spend most of the film working out a merger with another company.
CARL: Blah blah share prices.
EDDIE: Blah blah subsidiaries.
Limitless is mysterious, but not in a conspiratorial way. In a way that screams that the writer kept getting lost in his own story. In terms of conspiracy-generated danger, there’s pretty much just one guy following Eddie around. So really, we need to Russian loan shark there for conflict.
And here I am with a sharp knife.
Another problem with Limitless is that because the drug makes Eddie so smart, he’s able to deal with all the problems that crop up very easily. He has no money, then easily makes a lot. He loses his girlfriend, then easily gets her back. He experiences blackouts and headaches as side effects of the drug, then easily figures out how to stop having them. He gets in a fight, then easily defeats his attackers using a half-remembered History channel combat documentary. He’s even accused of murder and he manages to easily duck out from under the charges. It really takes away from the tension.
DID he kill a lady during his blackouts? I doubt it, unless he sexed her to death.
The overall effect is that the movie is actually kind of boring. It’s not really a thriller or an action adventure at all, like it claims to be. It’s just a drug movie. The drug happens to make you successful instead of high, but the plot progression is the same. Eddie’s life sucks, then he does drugs and it gets better, but now everyone’s after him for drugs so he has to live in a fortress and hire security, then everything spins out of control and he starts to think that maybe drugs have ruined his life.
Yeah, it’s the drugs Eddie, not the fact that you’re a smarmy idiot.
In the end, we do find out what Eddie’s genius world-changing plan is, and it’s almost laughable. It’s the most obvious plan in the world. It’s the same plan that every American schoolchild would come up at the drop of a hat. The conspiracy tries to butt its way in at the end as well, but Eddie deals with it as easily and perfunctorily as everything else. It’s such a letdown that I almost pine for the doom-and-gloom ending that the book supposedly has.
In short, this movie purports to be a smart thriller rife with conspiracy and insight into the human condition, but in reality it’s just another drug movie with a smarmily handsome star, a lot of plot holes, and a distinct lack of plausible conflict. I know the story of Lincoln Lawyer, and it’s better than this. Go see that one instead.