Limitless

OK, here’s the deal: Bradley Cooper‘s duff writer on his uppers and rejected by his girlfriend, comes by a pill that allow him to exploit the full potential of his brain.  He obtains a greater supply, and suddenly he’s writing novels, out-hyping the market, earning big and hobnobbing with Robert De Niro‘s city hotshot.  Only then two things go wrong – the pills screw up his brain and the baddies, from whom he borrowed cash, get the pills.  But then, being Hollywood, he regains control and comes out on top.  Cue happy ending.  That’s the movie Limitless in a capsule.

Oh yes, and there’s a girl too.  There had to be a girl, didn’t there?  In this case it’s Lindy, in the person of Abbie Cornish, in a fairly perfunctory love interest role, requiring her to look ravishing but add comparatively little to the plot.  Stop me when this begins to sound familiar.

In fact, this is an adaptation of a book called The Dark Fields.  Wikipedia tells how it morphed into the finished product:

Limitless is based on the novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn. The film is directed by Neil Burger and is based on a screenplay by Leslie Dixon, who had acquired rights to the source material. Dixon wrote the adapted screenplay for less than her normal cost in exchange for being made one of the film’s producers. She and fellow producer Scott Kroopf approached Burger to direct the film, at the time titled The Dark Fields. For Burger, who had written and directed his previous three films, the collaboration was his first foray solely as director. With Universal Pictures developing the project, Shia LaBeouf was announced in April 2008 to be cast as the film’s star.

The project eventually moved to development under Relativity Media and Sir Richard Branson‘s Virgin Produced with Universal distributing through Relativity’s Rogue Pictures. By November 2009, actor Bradley Cooper replaced LaBeouf in the starring role. Robert De Niro was cast opposite Cooper by March 2010, and The Dark Fields began filming in Philadelphia the following May. Filming also took place in New York City. For a car chase scene filmed in Puerto Vallarta, filmmakers sought a luxury car. Italian carmaker Maserati provided two Maserati GranTurismo coupes free in “a guerrilla-style approach” to product placement. By December 2010, The Dark Fields was re-titled Limitless

One good idea and a thin plot does not a great movie make, though this one has been fulfilled by Neil Burger with a narrative pace and drive, and a touch of panache.  Cooper’s Eddie Morra, portrayed in a palate of dowdy colours in his normal guise, becomes a riot of light and colour under the influence of the fictional drug NZT-48, mirroring his noirish commentary.

Burger adopts dizzying shots, like Morra balanced on top of the balcony of his penthouse apartment, thus knowingly scaring witless a good half of his audience – and then grossing out the other half by having Morra ingest the NZT-rich blood of the chief baddie.  For content read style, fuelled by the fact that NZT-48 is one drug a majority of us would give our eye teeth for…

As Frank Lloyd Wright famously said of television, Limitless is “chewing gum for the eyes” – though since the audience evidently wants such distractions, the movie did well at the box office.  Courtesy of Wikipedia:

Limitless had its world premiere in New York City on March 8, 2011. It was released in 2,756 theaters in the United States and Canada on March 18, 2011. It grossed a $18.9 million on its opening weekend to rank first at the box office, beating other openers The Lincoln Lawyer and Paul as well as carryovers Rango and Battle: Los Angeles.Limitless was released in the United Kingdom on March 23, 2011.

Before the film’s release, Box Office Mojo called Limitless a wild card for its box office predictability, highlighting its “clearly articulated” premise and the pairing of Cooper and De Niro but questioned a successful opening. The film opened at number one in its first week in the US. The film did well at the box office, earning some $79 million in the U.S. and Canada as well as some $157 million worldwide against its $27 million budget.

The bad news here is that the ending is a total cop-out, eschewing a more difficult places the movie could have gone and playing safe with the studio heads and the audience.  A better movie would have added depth and dimensions, left the character with a real dilemma, used the material as a metaphor for real life and what we make of it.  As it is, this is a piece of candy floss, mildly diverting but failing to score big hits or taking its chances to become a heavyweight piece.

A shame. but one wonders what would happen were this drug to become a reality. Now that would make for a fascinating documentary!

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