Combustible Celluloid
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With: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish, Andrew Howard, Anna Friel, Johnny Whitworth, Tomas Arana, Robert John Burke, Darren Goldstein, Ned Eisenberg, T.V. Carpio, Richard Bekins, Patricia Kalember, Cindy Katz, Brian Anthony Wilson
Written by: Leslie Dixon, based on a novel by Alan Glynn
Directed by: Neil Burger
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material involving a drug, violence including disturbing images, sexuality and language
Running Time: 105
Date: 03/08/2011

Limitless (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Pills to Pay the Bills

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Most of today's sci-fi basically consists of fighting and chasing, set in outer space or involving aliens. A select few contain actual ideas, and of those, even fewer pull them off with the right touch, and without losing sight of the idea in favor of likable characters. Happily, Neil Burger's Limitless is one of those. Adapted from a novel by Alan Glynn, it's more of a bubblegum genre movie than a masterpiece, but it's far more inventive than Burger's The Illusionist, and it's a perfect little pill of escapism. In a way, the movie is as involving and addictive as the fictitious drug it conjures up.

Bradley Cooper stars -- a nice combination of smarmy and charming -- as slovenly, loser writer Eddie Morra. He's supposedly at work on a sci-fi novel, but he can't quite motivate himself to write a single word. His girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) gets tired of this and breaks up with him. An old acquaintance gives him a pill that suddenly makes everything clear, giving him extraordinary levels of concentration and knowledge. He gets hold of an entire supply of pills and sets out to satisfy his desire for more money and power. Unfortunately, loan sharks and Wall Street goons are after him, as well as thugs involved with the drug's illegal manufacture. Worst of all, he becomes mixed up with a financial wizard (Robert De Niro) that may be more dangerous than any of them. Can Eddie ever get his life back? Does he want to?

Among Burger's more effective head-trip tricks, including a lighting scheme that visually illustrates the effects of the drug, as well as an awesome, dazzling sequence depicting an 18-hour blackout that the hero experiences while on the drug.

The movie more or less taps into a general human dissatisfaction and offers a vicarious lift; it's escapist entertainment at its best. Meanwhile, Burger guides Cooper through an appealing performance, and he's matched by De Niro in a snaky supporting role, as well as many other terrific turns in smaller parts. It's a very satisfying entertainment made out of a strong, and all-too-rare combination of sci-fi ideas and human emotions.

The new Blu-ray from Fox Home Video comes with an "unrated" version (less than one minute longer) as well as the theatrical cut. Extras include two featurettes, an alternate ending, a trailer, and a commentary track by director Neil Burger. A second disc holds a digital copy of the movie.

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