No offense intended, seriously, but Bradley Cooper is just a great jerk. In his best films (The Hangover, Wedding Crashers), he plays guys defined by a rakish self-centeredness and/or insincerity, and he does so with a correlative breezy composure that makes it look all too easy. With his pin-up looks (that tan! that smirk!) and ineffable lack of gradation, he’s a performer who elicits from other guys almost equally divided feelings of idealized affinity and jealous dislike.
And that’s fine, really, because all of that actually makes him a solid fit for the new thriller Limitless, in which Cooper plays Eddie Mora, a burned-out, would-be novelist who gets slipped NZT, a designer pharmaceutical which unlocks the allegedly unused portions of his brain and turns him into an indefatigable, self-bettering genius. With an awakened appetite for science, the arts and broader knowledge in general, Eddie picks up foreign languages and musical instruments in 24 hours, and turns several thousand dollars into $2.3 million in under two weeks as a day trader. The good times roll — at least for a while, until Eddie gets cut off from his drug supply and some nasty side effects pop up, threatening his relationship with his new energy baron mentor, Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro). Paranoia, blackmail and worse naturally ensue.
A story like this pretty much lives or dies on its cocksure, inner biorhythms, and director Neil Burger (Interview with the Assassin, The Illusionist) makes sure Limitless doesn’t get too bogged down in wonky, scientific specifics. Cooper isn’t necessarily wildly convincing as the sad-sack, stringy-haired loser in Eddie’s first incarnation, but once the movie gets past its set-up and gathers a considerable downhill momentum — partially achieved by putting Eddie in physical harm’s way, pursued by an oafish underworld type who gets turned onto the same drug — things become infinitely more intriguing.
Since it’s based on the novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn (a more abstruse title, no doubt), the movie has a fair amount of background detail, only some of which is gracefully integrated. As shoehorned within the parameters of a more conventional, big screen thriller narrative, Limitless‘ preoccupation with reintroducing Eddie’s estranged girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish), into the shenanigans is fairly misplaced — a diversion from what could be a much tauter, madcap character study. Despite both their shared past and her connection to Eddie’s drug source, Lindy doesn’t feel inherently wrapped up in his plight, but rather a tacked-on, “humanizing” sop for female audience members.