Monday, March 21, 2011

Movie Review: "Limitless"

How much of our brain do we really use? For the longest time it was asserted that we only used 10%. Modern science has debunked that old myth thanks to brain scans that show activity across much of the brain. But how much we're actually using at any given time is still a mystery and it's pretty much understood (from what I've read) that parts of our brain remain dormant if it's not needed at a particular time-- like when we're sleeping.

But what if our brain was 100% engaged?

Limitless, the new movie starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro asks just that question.

Eddie Morra (Cooper) is a would-be writer who spends more time slacking off in his run-down apartment than working on the book that he has somehow already sold. Things get worse when his is dumped by his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish), so Morra is somewhat vulnerable to making bad decisions when he is approached by his former brother-in-law who offers him a pill he claims will give Morra increased clarity and stamina. Morra is reluctant but intrigued and inevitably curious enough to take the pill.

The pill, known only as NZT-48, works exactly as promised. Within seconds Morra can literally recall everything he's ever seen. But it's not just his memory that's been supercharged. His whole brain is engaged and, we're told, he now has a 4 digit IQ. Suddenly Morra is a hard-charging, motivated and charming guy. The book that was an insurmountable challenge before now only requires a few days of diligent writing.

NZT-48 only lasts for a day and Eddie definitely wants more than one dose. When he tries to get his hands on some more, he finds out that just possessing the drug can be dangerous. But Eddie's life is on a fast-track trajectory and the only thing that can keep him going is NZT-48-- so Eddie takes the gamble that his new-found smarts can keep him one step ahead of those who want what he has.

"Limitless" is a fun movie. It has just enough intelligence to keep you interested without falling into the trap of being too complicated. There are a number of mysteries that aren't solved in "Limitless"-- for example, we're never told why Eddie's former brother-in-law has the drug in the first place. I also found myself wondering if someone with a "4 digit IQ" would be able to relate to other people so easily. But then I did what you do after you see a movie you like-- I started filling in the gaps myself. Maybe it isn't just the IQ that is enhanced; maybe the area of the brain that controls the personality would make the user super social-- after all, it says it facilitates use of 100% of the brain... And I really liked that "Limitless" allowed me to do that.

Movies like this are also fun for the audience because it naturally leads into those moments when we get the vicarious thrill of seeing the hero have those flashes of brilliance and outsmart everyone else. We want to see what kind of mental gymnastics are going to be performed. And Cooper, being a good looking guy, gets the women too-- so there's no doubt he's a surrogate for the audience. Who wouldn't want to have the mental and social acuity to live this kind of life? And wouldn't we also take a pill to have that too? Even if it was risky? Maybe we would...

Despite it's brainy storyline, "Limitless" is a very straightforward film that doesn't try to get the viewer into a mystery-box that has you wondering what the heck is going on rather than just enjoying the film. It has a very nice pace with just the right amount of suspense and thankfully clocks in at just under 2 hours and doesn't have you looking at your watch and praying for the end to finally come. The ending is pretty tidy and doesn't have quite the fireworks I expected and that may have kept the movie from moving from good to great. Bradley Cooper was also quite good and proves that he is more than capable of carrying a film on his own. Robert De Niro is... well, De Niro;  not necessary to the film but nice to have around.

All in all, I liked "Limitless." It won't go down as the best movie you've ever seen, but it's not a waste of an afternoon either.

4 out of 5 stars.


Stephanie M. Lorée said...

I went to see Paul (very nerd-funny) this weekend instead of Limitless (saw Adjustment Bureau last week). It's nice to see a line up of SF/F movies. Now, I think I'll see Limitless next, though Sucker Punch is out on Friday and the previews of that movie are simply stunning.

Keep up the great reviews!

SQT said...

I'd love to see Sucker Punch. I may have to sneak out for that one.

Charles Gramlich said...

Glad to see you debunk the myth about 10 percent of the brain being used. We certainly use it all, just not at the same time and not all for every task. In that way it's much like how we use our muscles. The brain is far more active on it's own than our muscles generally are however. Its highly likely that if you 'could' activate all the brain at once the result would be chaos and a complete inability to function at any task.

ShadowFalcon said...

I'm seeing this tonight and wasn't looking forward to it, but you've given me hope!

Stewart Sternberg said...

I am excited about the crop of films this year..and it feels good to say that after the blight of last season. Paul is on my list, as are many others. Outstanding. I will even see "Limitless." Good review.