(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: A man whose life is a failure tries taking a drug that will increase his intelligence. It plunges him into a new world with both big advantages and perhaps bigger disadvantages. It is a race to see what grows faster, the strength of Morra's intellect or the power of the enemies he attracts. Perhaps for too much of the second half the drug could be any MacGuffin, but generally the writing is good and even enthralling. Bradley Cooper stars as Eddie Morra in a bracing story that examines what intelligence will and will not buy and what is the effect that such a drug would have on society. Neil Burger directs a script by Leslie Dixon based on a novel by Alan Glynn. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Eddie Morra (played by Bradley Cooper of THE HANGOVER) is about thirty and discovering there is not that much he is good at doing. He thinks he could write a great novel, but for months cannot get even the first sentence written. He looks like someone who sleeps on cardboard under a bridge. His former brother-in-law gives him a tab of NZT, a new designer drug that greatly boosts intelligence. Just one freebie is all it takes to convince Eddie that he has got to get more of this wondrous drug, and when he does his novel turns to gold, he becomes a gambling genius, and graduates from betting on cards to being one of the great geniuses of the stock market. He even is attracting the attention of one of the great moguls of the stock market Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro). But two problems come along with NZT. One is finding sources for the illicit drug. The other is to avoid being eaten alive by others who are desperate to get their hands on NZT. Morra decides that he never wants to go back to being just normal again, and then discovers some of the drawbacks of using NZT.

The story is mostly told in flashback as Morra is preparing himself to throw himself off of a high building, so the viewer sort of gets the idea that there are some serious drawbacks to getting your intelligence from a pill--particularly an illegal pill. But this is not really a morality/anti-drug tale. It is more almost a superhero story with the lead character's power being intellect, and perhaps he is not so much a hero.

LIMITLESS would have had more power if we could see how it feels being a genius in a world that once did not think much of him. He could have been a sort of a latter-day Charly Gordon. But he measures his progress by financial success, by what high-paying successes he has rather than by any internal and emotional measure. Even as a genius Morra seems very prosaic, wanting nothing but more of the same things he has always wanted, money and attractive women.

Directing LIMITLESS is Neil Burger, whose previous work includes the engaging puzzle film THE ILLUSIONIST. I do not tend to see the sort of films that Bradley Cooper has been in, so to me he is a new face in film and he does seem to convey the exhilaration of his new powers. His Morra is fairly easy to empathize with even with his banal tastes. Abbie Cornish who plays his girlfriend is not given much range of emotion to put across. She is almost unrecognizable as John Keats's love interest in BRIGHT STAR. Of course, her clothing and her hair were very different in that film. For some reason Robert De Niro is cast as the great old Wall Street baron. Somehow I can see De Niro as a criminal, but he just is not the Wall Street type. Perhaps in the end (in life and in this film) there is not so much difference in the two types.

Surprisingly, LIMITLESS never sermonizes on the morality of intelligence by drug. It is a fresh and well-written thriller. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2011 Mark R. Leeper