Friday, March 18, 2011
Don't believe the abs… I mean the ads, Bradley Cooper is mostly dressed in his latest film "Limitless" (opening March 18 throughout San Diego).
A female friend of mine was eager to see "Limitless" because the TV ads showed Bradley Cooper wet and shirtless (although not both in the same shot). Well, unless staring into his baby blue eyes is enough to satisfy you, stay home ladies. Cooper remains fully clothed in all but one brief scene, and even then his abs were less than impressive. But I digress.
But a sense of false advertising also figures into the film. Cooper plays struggling writer Eddie Morra. He's a well meaning slacker who keeps meaning to get his act together but never does… until he takes a magic little pill from his ex-wife's creepy brother. The pill (known as NZT) turns Eddie's life around, teasing him with all kinds of potential. Check out the "commercial" made by the studio to tease the film.
In the film we never see that commercial but the pill itself makes all those promises to Eddie but without the warning disclosure about the side effects. So one dose of the pill does make him smarter, more together, improve his reflexes, and able to connect the dots faster than you can imagine. In essence it promises to make him rich, powerful and successful.
But anyone with half a brain knows that something that looks this good can't possibly be true. So Eddie pops the pills, acquires wealth, prestige, and power and then starts to crash and burn. But, since this is a Hollywood movie, be prepared for everything to be tied up in a pretty little bow.
Neil Burger directed "The Illusionist" in 2006 and now he tries to pull off another sleight of hand with "Limitless." The first illusion he tries to pass off on us is that these characters are worth caring about. Eddie is an okay sort of guy. He seems nice enough but just incapable of being on the ball. When he gets the NZT boost everything improves but he thinks only of himself and how to get ahead and get rich. He never thinks about helping anyone else or maybe doing something positive in the world. He barely even thinks of his sweet one-time girlfriend (Abbie Cornish who is completely wasted as his prop of a girlfriend). He buys snazzy suits, starts to invest, and gets a fortress of an apartment to protect him from the small band of folks who also know of NZT and want more for themselves. So a selfish, narcissistic guy who commits crimes but is relieved of responsibility for them because he can't remember what he did is not exactly the kind of guy that you care a whole lot for. And the film wants you to care so that you stay interested in the film.
Burger's desire to have you care about Eddie is obvious from the opening shot. The film begins with Eddie about to jump off a skyscraper and then flashes back to tell us how he got there. The filmmakers – Burger as director and Leslie Dixon as writer – bank on us caring whether he jumps and wanting to know what brought him to this crisis point. But we don't really care then and we don't come to care during the course of the film.
The only thing the film has going for it is a somewhat intriguing premise and some visual flair. Burger oversaturates the images any time anyone pops an NZT pill and he wants to show that person's perspective. It's supposed to represent a heightened awareness plus it looks so darn pretty. It also makes Cooper's baby blues look even bluer and that can't be a bad thing, right? Burger also employs a visual gimmick to fly us through locations in a manner that reflects how the NZT user perceives time and space. It's fun and sexy but after a few trips it gets old. And that's the problem with the film. It serves up a pattern of behavior – Eddie takes a pill, amps up, dazzles everyone, and then crashes –and then keeps repeating that pattern with almost no variation. So the 105-minute running time feels longer because we feel like we stop moving forward about 20 minutes into the film.
Another problem with the film is the way it tries to wrap everything up. I haven't read the novel "The Dark Fields" on which Dixon based the screenplay but changing the title from "The Dark Fields" to "Limitless" implies a tonal change that is problematic. I don't want to give away the end but let me just say that it is a Hollywood ending that is beyond unbelievable. The ending also presents an odd message, which if it were ironic, might be okay. But the way Burger presents it he seems to want us to take it at face value and that just makes the whole film feel ridiculous.
In addition to wasting Cornish in the pointless romantic subplot, "Limitless" fails to make use of Robert DeNiro in a supporting role and throws aside Andrew Howard's quirky Eastern Bloc gangster Gennady before exploiting his full potential.
"Limitless" (rated PG-13 for thematic material involving a drug, violence including disturbing images, sexuality and language) is a glossy package that is likely to attract filmgoers on this weak weekend. But it could have been something more complex and intriguing in the hands of someone like David Cronenberg or David Fincher, directors who was not interested in making comfortable cinema that leaves the viewer with the impression that everything will be okay. Considering all that's not okay in the world this film shows, that's an absurd and false message.
And one final note… as I was reading the end credits I noticed that Tom Ford (the designer turned director who made "A Single Man") designed all of Cooper's suits. Two thoughts crossed my mind: why did he cover Cooper in so much material and why didn't he direct the film. Either way the film could have been a whole lot better.
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