The inescapable conclusion after watching the rise of Bradley Cooper – from annoying support act in films like Wedding Crashers, to lead roles in The A Team and Limitless – is that he might be the chosen one destined to take on the mantle of ‘charming leading man’ from former great turned couch-jumping madman Tom Cruise. Cooper can do comedy and action, charm and chutzpah, and one suspects he will manage drama just as effectively. It is fortunate he is as agile a performer as he appears to be as Limitless rests almost entirely on his shoulders.

When Eddie Morra (Cooper) is given a few ‘samples’ of a drug (NZT) that purports to allow a person to access all of their brain’s capacity, his life will become very interesting indeed.Limitless As a struggling writer about to forfeit the advance on his first novel and recently dumped by his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish), Morra had very little upside, but with NZT on board, he might just change the world.

Cooper nails his performance as the fortunate – or is he? – Morra, and is ably supported by Cornish as his long-suffering former girlfriend. It is a relief to start to see her on-screen again, after a period of relative quiet in a career that promises a great deal. It must be a luxury indeed to be able to call upon Robert De Niro to play a supporting character of such little substance. Sure, turning up on set for a few days to do your scenes might be financially rewarding, but this character could have been played by any number of journeyman actors, and De Niro’s stature demands something more. Finally, Johnny Whitworth, who played the lead alongside Liv Tyler and Anthony LaPaglia in Empire Records, one of the ‘guilty pleasure’ movies of my younger days, has fun in a short but important supporting role.

Director Neil Burger uses visual effects as shorthand in montages supposed to illuminate Morra’s experience of his newfound mental powers, and although these sequences are certainly in no way original or particularly inspired, they perform the task asked of them with dexterity. These moments also allow him a chance to show off some silly little cinematographic tricks without inflicting them on ‘real-life’ scenes in which they would be an unneccessary distraction. His film is almost perfectly timed, with only a somewhat flabby mid-section to detract from the experience, although the ‘twists’ could fail to surprise seasoned cinemagoers.

Limitless is a highly enjoyable if not especially original or insightful exploration of how things might play out if one were granted the ability to learn anything one wanted or develop any skill one desired. There will be better science fiction films that explore these issues, but there will be many, many more worse. Enjoy it for Cooper’s lead performance.

Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by Mark Lavercombe, 17th April 2011
Hoopla Factor: 4 stars

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