Published: March 23, 2011
Directed by Neil Burger
Pop culture has perpetuated the idea that we only use 10-20 percent of our brains. In fact, we already exert our brains’ full capacities; it’s well documented. Sorry.
Still, it’s fun to imagine. That’s what Limitless does, presupposing that every aspiration would be easily realized if we could only harness 100 percent of our mental power.
Inertia cripples Eddie Morra, a writer played by an unkempt Bradley Cooper. Eddie hasn’t typed the first word of his book. He fritters days away in his apartment, avoiding his keyboard. When his attractive girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) dumps him in a diner, he halfheartedly motions to propose. She stops him, citing his dependency on her credit card. She pays the check, pats him on the back, and leaves.
Just as Eddie heads to his Chinatown hovel, he’s flagged down by his ex-brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), a slick-haired upscale drug dealer. Over a beer, Eddie admits to writer’s block. Vernon whips out a dime bag with a transparent pill the size of a button. NZT, Vernon explains, flicks on the entire brain’s circuitry—like a super-evolved Adderall. Once Eddie swallows his first pill, he shifts into high gear. He seduces his landlord’s wife, cleans his apartment, and writes a huge chunk of his novel, all in one day.
The next morning, Eddie looks ashen again. He’s come down. But he still has his manuscript, so he packs off to the publisher, then goes to score some dope. When he discovers Vernon dead in his posh apartment, Eddie scours the place for Vernon’s stash.
Having secured a hefty pouch of NZT, Eddie gets hooked. He completes his book, flushing the literary urge from his system, and moves onto mathematical endeavors like gambling. Recognizing that—when NZT-ed out—his mental agility has limitless potential, Eddie starts playing the stocks. He makes $2.3 million in 10 days; he conferences with high-powered exec Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro).
Soon, Eddie’s dosing daily. Is Hollywood going to portray pill-popping without consequence? No. Drawbacks crop up. He begins suffering blackouts. An insatiable need to move forward compels him to risky, uncharacteristic behavior. While in a drug-addled haze, he murders a girl. Then he notices he’s being followed.
Limitless focuses less on characters than on drug addiction, and it’s sort of a silly treatment of the subject. NZT junkies skyrocket to the top of society, buying shiny suits and getting snazzy haircuts along the way, but withdrawal is fatal, and the pharmaceutical well has just about run dry. The surviving recovered addict we meet—Eddie’s ex-wife—is as gray and stony as an Easter Island moai. She can’t concentrate for more than 10 minutes.
To depict the efficacy of the drug, director Neil Burger tints the movie with a golden hue and uses the fisheye lens when Eddie is high. Dizzying special effects, more suitable for IMAX theaters, simulate the acceleration of time.
Limitless’ ending contains more than a few twists: some admirable, some sickening, some puzzling. But you can be sure that you’ll need only about 5 percent of your brain to sit through this one.