The farrago of alternate-reality paranoia called Limitless opens with the narrative voice of the protagonist, a guy with a four-digit IQ standing on top of a building ready to jump, asking, “Why is it the minute your life exceeds you wildest dreams, a knife appears at your back?” The rest of this labored but lively contrivance tells you what went wrong, leaving out the part about how the thing that goes wrong the most is the movie itself. I can’t say it’s my favorite kind of hallucinogenic Alice in Wonderland cookie, but I won’t accuse it of lulling me to sleep, either.
Directed with a pulsating fervor by Neil Burger, Limitless is absurd but entertaining action-adventure escapism. Bradley Cooper (a versatile, virile and valiant leading man) plays Eddie Morra, a blocked writer and worthless slacker who is such a loser he can’t even pay the rent on his filthy one-room New York tenement. Divorced and steeped in despair, he runs into his ex-brother-in-law, Vernon, a retired drug dealer now working for a pharmaceutical research group, who gives him a magic pill called NZT that gives you access to 100 percent of the unused contents of your brain. The little clear capsule, which looks like a Vitamin D, multiplies his energy and dynamites his IQ with the force of an electro-shock treatment. Suddenly there are four of him, cleaning his rent-controlled dump, tidying his bookshelves, and pouring out the kind of pages that honor his publishing contract in record time.
NZT is an unknown, untested, possibly dangerous drug, but when he comes to, the new, enhanced Eddie knows only one thing—he must do anything to stay supplied. Back for a fresh dose, he finds Vernon savagely murdered. Eddie locates the rest of hidden stash and—Shazam!—he learns to play piano concertos in three days, becomes fluent in every language and becomes an expert in math, medicine and music. He also rises to the top of Wall Street, trumping the market, winning the awe and respect of hedge-fund managers throughout the world, and earning more money overnight than Mr. Dow, Mr. Jones and Bill Gates put together. This attracts the attention of his old girlfriend (luscious Abbie Cornish) as well as a corporate mogul (Robert De Niro) who enlists his aid in brokering the biggest merger in history, all of which gives Eddie a chance to shave, wear custom-tailored suits and look like a real movie star. Down to his last smart pill, the only way Eddie can survive is to drink the blood of the last man who injected himself with NZT.
Pursued by killers, in jeopardy of losing everything, Eddie climbs to the roof where we found him in the opening scene. Will he jump? Will his girl save him? Will he miraculously, against all odds, find a perfect science nerd who can generically reproduce NZT before the end credits roll? The possibilities are, well, limitless.