REVIEW: Limitless

4 09 2012

There is always a temptation to overstylize films.  It can be fun – heck, sometimes it can even be healthy – to indulge in this temptation.  But in a feature film, it has to be handled appropriately, and a balance must be established.

Quentin Tarantino has found it.  Wes Anderson knows where it is.  Danny Boyle exudes this equilibrium.  “Limitless” shows that Neil Burger has yet to find it.  His thriller wants to be “Inception” on 5-Hour Energy, but unlike that shot of energy’s promise, it comes with a big crash.

When it’s riding the big adrenaline high, the movie is slick fun that just draws a little bit too much attention to its own strut.  But when the projectile that shot way, way up comes inevitably back down to earth, it crashes with a loud thud and limps towards the finish line.  Once it slows down, we see “Limitless” for what it really is: an average movie that, like the average American, is only using a fraction of its brainpower.

We are also left with the realization that Bradley Cooper, handsome and composed as he may be, is still not quite the leading man that the tabloids so desperately want him to be.  He’s currently on the Ryan Reynolds trajectory  (forcibly pushed on America as a star more for his looks and less for his skills) rather than the Ryan Gosling track (an actor committed to his art but is willing to please the fans).  As Eddie Morra, a struggling writer who climbs to the top of the world with the help of a little pill called NZT, he’s convincing but not compelling, plausible but not entirely persuasive.

Cooper doesn’t carry the movie so much as the snazzy visuals do.  I’m not doubting he has talent: whether it’s scene-stealing in “Wet Hot American Summer,” embracing his looks to provide comic relief for “The A-Team,” or being the straight man that acts as the glue to hold the Wolfpack together in “The Hangover,” Cooper has proven himself quite nimble.  But in “Limitless,” he is most definitely limited.  We’ll get that towering Bradley Cooper performance somewhere down the road, though in the meantime, we’re stuck with Burger’s controlled acid trip and Cooper parading around in a suit.  B-