Limitless (2011)

“I don’t have delusions of grandeur, I have an actual recipe for grandeur.”

Justin’s rating: A double-digit IQ plot in a triple-digit IQ package

Justin’s review: Is it just me, or does Bradley Cooper always come across as much a smarmy guy on the screen that you kind of want to slap him with a week-old halibut just to get him to stop smirking? I’m sure he’s actually a nice guy and all that, but any time he shows up in a movie, I have a hard time accepting him as anything but the villain who deserves a good downfall in act three.

But I was willing to give him a shot in the case of Limitless, a nearly decade-old movie that’s garnered somewhat of a cult following since its release. I think it’s because this is nothing more or less than a pure fantasy story. It’s the kind of tale that we run in our own heads when we’ve seen so many movies and see ourselves in the starring role of society if only Hagrid would come tell us that we were wizards or a secret lover would appear and activate our special spy skills with a carefully planned codeword.

Watching Limitless, then, is wish fulfillment on behalf of the audience, because it posits a very simple and very tempting scenario. What if someone could give you a little pill that would make you obnoxiously smart, talented, and driven within thirty seconds of ingestion? This is what happens to Eddie, a failing writer who gladly doses up with an unknown drug when his ex-brother-in-law promises him that it’ll change his life. Suddenly — by which I mean “faster than a rapid montage” — Eddie is writing world-class novels, seducing women, and making money hand-over-fist.

Eddie’s meteoric rise to the top of society is so fast, in fact, that it’s nearly laughable how he doesn’t have to struggle for any of it. There aren’t any real obstacles, no real struggle to succeed, just… bam. One pill, instant success. You tell me if that isn’t everyone’s secret fantasy that someone actually put into a screenplay without being ashamed at its revelation.

So therein lies the fun of Limitless: You can’t be this smart or rich or successful, but it’s kind of a breezy two hours to watch a film proxy do it for you. Oh, sure, Eddie does hit some snags as he tries to sort out his medication, love life, entanglements with drug dealers, and Robert DeNiro squinting at him with all the squints in the world. But even at its most dire, this movie never makes you feel like Eddie is going to lose. He’s going to keep on jumping his way to the top until he’s the Q*bert on top of the pyramid of life.

I can see why this is a comfort flick, because I can easily see watching it again. But I also recognize that it’s not really saying anything deep or trying to give us anything more than the basic fantasy that we can have it all. That might work well in the privacy of our own heads, but on screen, it does stretch a little thin.

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