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Friday, Oct. 7, 2011
Popping pills, winning friends and influencing people
By KAORI SHOJI
Something must be wrong with me, because there was no way Bradley Cooper could have convinced me of his almost A-list status. Despite his sculpted I-got-this-tan-in-Malibu visage, his blazing blue eyes and perfect biceps, this guy was annoying. And then I saw "Limitless" and decided that my gut instinct had been right. A woman can travel 1,000 miles and still not run into someone so patently insincere as Bradley Cooper.
On the other hand, "Limitless" is silly and fun. Certainly there's a fantasy escape element here for the writers among us (more on that later).
Cooper plays Eddie Morra, who hails from New Jersey, is approaching middle age and still hasn't finished that novel that would make him millions and land him a movie contract. But Eddie manages to live in a Manhattan apartment (OK, it's in Chinatown, but the rent's still colossal over there) with his pretty blonde girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish). He gets up at noon, bar-hops to heal his aching soul and cultivates the Allen Ginsberg look, with disheveled locks and facial hair.
Inside of eight minutes I could feel a wave of resentment/indignation flood the screening room, with unspoken sentences such as "Of all the ridiculous ... " and "Who wrote this thing?" floating in the air. (Actually, "Limitless" takes shameless liberties with a novel by Alan Glynn, on which it's based.) And then the wave subsided and turned into ripples of envy. This just may be the first story in which a writer gets it all (for the first half hour anyway), and the ride — for writers on this side of the screen — can be quite titillating.
"Limitless" starts out like a fable, but (incredulously) there is no moral. Eddie goes from being a Martini-soaked loser lout to Martini-soaked toast of the town lout, and he never really has to wake up and smell his loutishness. The enabler is a little pill called NZT — brought to Eddie via his ex-brother-in-law (Johnny Whitworth) across a bar table.
Eddie pops it, and wham! The next scenes are giddy with euphoria — he finishes that novel in four days and wows his editor. He's suddenly fluent in Italian and Mandarin, which impresses everyone in the swank restaurants he takes Lindy to. He understands and analyzes the very depths of higher mathematics, which enables him to make a gazillion dollars in a matter of minutes. He's suited up in Zegna, drives a Porsche and wallows in glorious contracts. And naturally, he's guzzling top-notch whisky by the gallon and shagging French babes in microminis pushed up against walls in hotel hallways.
In short, Eddie becomes a resurrected, modern version of Henry Miller, which we know to be every (male) writer's wet dream.
The catch, if you can call it that, is that NZT causes frequent memory loss and befuddled paranoia. Eddie is convinced that Russian mobsters are on his trail, and hires a couple of bodyguards. He has night sweats, can't concentrate, and freaks out Lindy.
In short, Eddie displays the textbook symptoms of a coke fiend, and considering that Cornish's big break came with "Candy," in which boyfriend Heath Ledger was a heroin addict, she certainly has the despair of a woman whose partner is substance abusive — down. Not even Eddie's obscene winning streak can mend the couple's disintegrating relationship.
In the meantime, Eddie comes up against the sleaze king of them all — a financial tycoon with the ludicrous name of Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro). Van Loon seems to be the one hiring the Russian thugs and informs Eddie that all who become addicted to NZT will never escape the drug's clutches. Gasp!
The bottom line for Eddie, though, is that escape isn't on his agenda. He needs those pills to continue on the pathway of his own American Dream, paved with drinks and platinum credit cards and a procession of pouting, adoring Euro-model types draped over his arm. So what if it's an illusion? As long as it doesn't shatter under his Gucci shoes, he's OK.
The bottom line for the viewer is that a wet dream can get tired, especially when the main thing propelling it is a wonder pill. That's so last century, isn't it? In the new millennium, all dreams, wet or otherwise, have got to be worked for — hard. And even then, the chances of realizing them are as slim as Angelina Jolie's ankles.
Annoyingly, Eddie skips over that part and pretends it doesn't exist. He wants to eat his cake, topped with a tub of whipped cream, and not even get on the treadmill afterward. He deserves a worse fate than mere mobsters pounding on his door.