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At one time or another we all have wished for a way to be smarter without all that hard work and difficult studying that is. A sizeable amount of science fiction has been based on the assumption that we typically use only a small fraction of our brains. I have read some of these ‘studies’ and compared them to accounts in actual peer reviewed journals and most of those ‘only 10% usage’ claims have been debunked. While there are many areas of the brain that are still not completely functionally mapped and much of the internal biochemical basis of neural functionality remains just beyond the understanding of the scientific community there is plenty to learn about the eight pounds or so of neurons that sits upon our shoulders. This is not to preclude amazing discoveries that encompass amazing discoveries encompassing what we now categorize as paranormal. It is certain that the functionality of the organ that defines our humanity, the brain, will provide sufficient mysteries to supply Sci-Fi writers for many years to come. One example of this age old desire to tap into the deep recesses of our mind is the film released by 20th Century Fox, ‘Limitless’. The premise is simplistic and that is one of its greatest strengths. Imagine if there was a simple pill that could unlock the entire potential of your mind. With just the act of taking this experimental substance your memory would be perfect, you mind calculating beyond the capacity of a super computer and you creativity unbounded by any restrictions. Suppose this substance was addictive and had serious adverse contraindications and side effects? How much risk would be acceptable to receive such a boon above mortal man’s abilities? ‘Limitless’ does deliver although there is a tendency to dip into the ‘more sizzle than steak’ syndrome. At least this doesn’t take effect fully until the third act of the film leaving the majority of the movie a quite enjoyable experience. This is the kind of science fiction movie that you don’t have to be a Sci-F9 geek to understand or enjoy. While the fundamental premise is pure Sci-Fi the story unfolds as a character based thriller. In some way the pill is a classic Macguffin, more important to the characters within the story than the audience looking on. This transforms the film into an extremely relatable story that reaches for a humanistic reaction.

Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is an aspiring writer living in the hectic environment of New York City. As the story opens life is not exactly unfolding the way Eddie had hoped. Not only is he experiencing a professionally fatal case of writer’s block but his girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish) just dumped him. Surrounded by his own shortcoming Eddie was in a very receptive frame of mind when he runs into Vernon Gant (Johnny Whitworth), the brother of his ex-wife, Melissa Gant (Anna Friel). Vernon is a purveyor of drugs but his inventory extends beyond the usual street drug including the new experimental nootropic drug, NZT-48. Vernon assures Eddie that this pill would boost his brain’s utilization to100%. Eddie is dubious but desperate and seeing nothing to lose takes the drug. Eddie is pleasantly surprised when his mind clicks like never before allowing him to finish his book in record time. Eddie is exhilarated by the rush of the increased brain capacity and trades running a few ‘errands’ for Vernon in exchange for more of the drug. Upon returning Eddie discovers the body of recently murdered Vernon and calls the authorities. It is obvious that Vernon was in over his head so Eddie helps himself to a stash of cash and NZT-48 using the combination to win big in the stock market. The drug may have made Eddie more intelligent but it certainly didn’t increase his smarts to any significant degree as evident by Eddie’s borrowing from the Russian mob to fuel his new found economic prowess. This puts him in the sights of mobster Gennady (Andrew Howard).Eddie; the new wunderkind on the Street is snatched up by successful businessman Carl Van Loon (Robert DeNiro, a job that paves the way for reuniting with Lindy. The mood turns decidedly sinister as Eddie begins to notice that he is being trailed by a man wearing a tan coat ((Tomas Arana). In order to keep up with the increasing demands of his new life Eddie increases his dosage only to find the drug has side effects including palpitations and gaps in his recollection of events. During one of this period of lost time evidence begins to mount that Eddie is responsible for the murder of a woman (Caroline Winberg).

The moral foundation of the movie is reminiscent of a pivotal line in ‘Jurassic Park’ the gaining knowledge without working to obtain it is like giving gun to a child; power without establishing the moral compass to direct its use. Eddie is a typical movie slacker that is miraculously given the means to soar above the rest of humanity. The downside is, as stated there is a vast difference between intelligence and wisdom as and D&D enthusiast will tell you. Eddie gained the raw capacity for intelligence but none of the wisdom that experience would bring to be able to use it constructively. Robert De Niro is unquestionably one of the greatest actors of his generation but of late he has been taking roles not exactly challenging to the stature of his talents. For actors like his co-star here, Bradley Cooper, it had to be a learning experience to work alongside such a consummate professional. Thus far Cooper’s career has not been such to showcase his abilities with ‘R’ rated comedies like the two ‘Hangover’ flicks and the recent big screen rendition of the camp TV series, ‘The A-Team. He does very well here as the lamentable Eddie playing it in such a fashion that it is possible to feel a modicum of sympathy for someone who is essentially a selfishly motivated slacker. After establishing herself on the independent film circuit Abbie Cornish is broaden out her roles with more action oriented roles such as this and ‘Sucker Punch’. She is able to hold a scene together in the quieter moments giving her performance greater depth.

Posted 07/23/11

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