With a promising premise to build from, the new film “Limitless” manages to work while also being slightly disappointing.
This visually dazzling and briskly paced drama is a solid excursion with a strong lead performance from Bradley Cooper, but it never quite delivers on its potential after a first half that suggests bigger and better things.
Still, there is enough to like that audiences shouldn’t be too distraught.
It starts with Cooper, who plays Eddie, a struggling writer stuck in a rut both personally and professionally.
When his former brother-in-law introduces him to a new drug that allows a person to access every bit of his brain, Eddie reluctantly takes it. But the effect is so great, Eddie is able to use the drug to his advantage, quickly becoming one of the top players in the financial world and drawing the attention of business mogul Carl Van Loon (Robert DeNiro).
Just as it looks like Eddie’s life has changed for the good, problems start to arise. For one, nasty side effects from the drug begin to emerge. Then as the stash starts to dwindle, paranoia sets in, and Eddie becomes convinced that hit men are trying to take him out.
From the opening credits, director Neil Burger draws the audience in with a unique visual style that plays off the effects of the drug. There is a lot of camera movements and playing with colors and lighting that really give “Limitless” some sizzle, making it interesting and perhaps even distracting viewers from a plot that starts to get a little outlandish by the final act.
Cooper’s swagger fits the character well, making his performance that much more believable, while DeNiro makes the most of his small role.
Abbie Cornish also co-stars as Eddie’s on-again, off-again love interest, but her role doesn’t have quite the impact, somewhat wasting Cornish’s talents.
“Limitless” also suffers somewhat from untapped potential. The first half seems to imply the film is about to delve into social commentary on chemical dependency or big corporation greed, but it never comes to fruition. The film evolves into a pretty standard chase picture in the final moments.
The result is a film with a lot of setup, only to have a payoff fall flat. Still, there is enough to warrant a positive recommendation - with slight reservations.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “Fair Game” (B), a compelling thriller that further questions America’s involvement in Iraq.
Based on a true story, “Fair Game” tells the story of Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts), the CIA agent whose cover was blown by White House officials in an attempt to discredit a 2003 New York Times op-ed piece written by Plame’s husband, Joe Wilson (Sean Penn).
The piece is a scathing attack on the Bush administration, which at the time claimed it had intelligence - as did every other credible intelligence-gathering country - that suggested Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, justifying the invasion of the Middle Eastern country.
Director Doug Liman does a good job of letting the story speak for itself, sparing the audience from too much soap-boxing. Watts and Penn are both solid, although Penn’s performance borders on over-the-top in a couple of key scenes.
The film is based on books written by the couple, so it is clearly slanted in their direction. Still, I found the idea that this could have happened to be fascinating - a further indictment of the Bush presidency and an intriguing look at how one action could cause a chain reaction that threatens to shatter a family.
“Fair Game” is rated PG-13 for some language and will be available on DVD on Tuesday.