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Richard Karpala Headshot

Review: Limitless

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Watching Limitless, I wondered where the time went. As soon as it started, it was over. I felt like its main character Eddie in the throes of his drug's side effects, losing all track of time.

It's my compliment to the film's frenetic pace, intriguing visual style, and to a story that's limitless on pulp, fun and entertainment value. It is based on the 2003 novel The Dark Fields, by Alan Glynn.

We meet Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) wandering around New York. In his voice-over he says he resembles a homeless man. The better comparison would be Eddie Vedder of "Pearl Jam." Life is the pits for Eddie. His girlfriend has broken up with him, and he hasn't written a single page of a novel that is due to his publisher.

Then he runs into his ex-brother-in-law on the street, a former drug dealer who helps him get back on his feet with a single pill called NZT that has a market value of $800. What's it do? It allows him to use 100 percent of his brain -- not the measly 20 that has gotten him nowhere.

Within thirty seconds of taking the pill, the blue hues of Eddie's world become warmer, and brighter, as if the clouds inside his mind have broken apart and made room for the golden sun.

But what does it mean to use 100 percent of one's brain power? Psychic abilities? Upper level mind control techniques that would make a Scientologist jealous?

One glimpse at a book's cover, and Eddie can recall the time, years before, where he skimmed through its pages. He's able to grab the information he learned and later forgot. Every bit of information he's come across, even in passing, can be summoned instantly.

It's a fascinating and fun concept, because we all wish for that same kind of recall. The only problem for Eddie is that once the drug wears off, so does the knowledge.

Eventually he gets caught up in helping Carl Van Loon (Robert DeNiro) orchestrate the most complicated merger the business world has ever seen. If he doesn't have NZT to help him, he'll be discovered for the fraud he is.

Eddie talks a lot about his ambitions, but they never form a clear picture for the audience. Because it's not the things he wants to achieve that we care about. It's his attempt at getting a handle of his drug's side effects, making sure his supply doesn't run out, and avoiding a persistent stalker who follows him around the city.

The film gets a lot of mileage out of its premise, and it isn't afraid to take a few risks and have fun.

There's a scene where Eddie has to recall his knowledge of martial arts to get himself out of a violent confrontation. While he's punching and kicking, we see in his mind various scenes from Bruce Lee's movies. It works out pretty well for Eddie -- unlike the time I tried the same thing by recalling the crane kick from Karate Kid during a school fight.

There's a villainous Russian mobster that looks like a character straight out of Grand Theft Auto 4, played by Andrew Howard. Once he gets his hands on the NZT, he turns into Eddie's arch-nemesis. It's a little disappointing that a battle between the two most intelligent people on Earth is still settled with weapons.

With the designer drug, Eddie is a superhero. Without it, he's just an ordinary man. DeNiro's character is perhaps the only ordinary man who can challenge Eddie's intellect. With DeNiro in the cast, I expected brilliant arguments, and entertaining chess games of wit. But the script is in short supply. There is only dim witted posturing and a few back and forth threats.

I would say this is decent, but not great science fiction. I think the measure of great science fiction is in how effortlessly its story has relevance to our real lives. This is not a cautionary tale about drug addiction.

The moral here is that drugs can make you better.

Not exactly encouraging news, unless you're Charlie Sheen.

Three out of four stars.

Limitless opens in theaters everywhere today.