(2011) ** 1/2 Pg-13
105 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: Neil Burger. Cast: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish, Anna Friel.

/content/films/4115/1.jpgThe flashy, fun-loving Limitless is a Faustian tale for the pharmaceutical age: what if a drug could simultaneously light up the other 80% of brainpower we proverbially go without at any given moment? According to Limitless—based on Alan Glynn's 2001 novel The Dark Fields—a man of average intelligence could suddenly have it a price, of course. And what one does with such power remains the ultimate moral measure of a man or woman. As Maxwell Smart used to say, "If only he had used his genius for niceness instead of evil."

Alas, that's not the case for Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), an anti-hero who is, sad to say, an Everyman for the waning American age of conspicuous consumption. A failed New York City writer riding out the last days of a book contract he's doomed not to fulfill, Eddie finds that when the door of his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) closes, another promptly opens. Door #2 holds Eddie's ex-brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), who offers Eddie a supposedly FDA-approved pill called NZT (street value: $800 a pop) that has the power to activate 100% of the brain. It doesn't take too hard of a sell to get Eddie to accept the pill, which succeeds in getting him laid and his house cleaned in a matter of hours, not to mention his novel written in just four days.

Eddie's supply hinges on the first in a series of dead bodies that come in the bargain. Quickly, he applies his newfound mental powers to reaching the top of the Wall Street world, but as we all learned on the playground, the king of the hill must defend his position from all comers, from loan-shark muscle to the agents of the pill's shadowy source to tycoon Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), who hires Eddie as counsel for a giant merger but never stops warily sizing up his lucrative human acquisition. Eddie's newfound fortune—enjoyed in the bedroom (having won back Lindy) and the boardroom—threatens to come crashing down if he fails to maintain his supply of NZT and, even more worryingly, if he does: turns out the pill has some nasty side effects.

Limitless doesn't add up terribly well, but director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) plunges into the material at such a headlong pace and with sufficient adrenalized style (Fight Club being an obvious narrative and visual touchstone) as to propel this essentially trashy thriller and distract from the abundant loose ends. Cooper is well cast as the ever-desperate, ever-selfish Eddie (screenwriter Leslie Dixon smartly has him ask us, "What would you do?", a rebuke to the holier-than-thou), and the visuals are gifts that keep on giving, from the conceit of NZT sharpening and brightening existence to its runaway rabbit-hole effect when the drug turns on its user. The plot's final chess moves may not entirely convince, either, but they do take a satirical bite of the apple with the suggestion that, while money may be everything, knowhow is the key to the vault.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 7/19/2011

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

/content/films/4115/2.jpgLimitless is a title that's especially well-suited to Blu-ray, given the reliance of its visual scheme on the contrast between dull and blazingly brilliant color. Limitless looks sharp and accurately transferred in its purposefully dull moments, but it positively sears when its color snaps into life. Black level, contrast, and depth are excellent here, and detail and texture are as good as they get; apart from the very occasional aliasing shimmer, this is a near-perfect image. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is perfect, as far as I can tell: potent, precise and detailed, with careful discrete separation for an immersion into the character's experience and, thereby, the film.

This Blu-ray + Digital Copy edition includes several bonus features. For starters, one can view either the Unrated Extended Cut (1:45:33, HD) or the Theatrical Cut (1:44:46, HD). Might as well opt for the former, which is less than a minute different in run time, but adds a bit of R-rated flavor. Both versions come with the audio commentary by director Neil Burger, in which the engaging filmmaker thoroughly explains the project's origins, concept, and execution.

"A Man Without Limits" (4:29, HD) is an EPK-style featurette including Bradley Cooper and others as talking heads. "Taking it to the Limit: The Making of Limitless" (11:38, HD) is an expanded version of the same sort of thing. A bit more meaty is the "Alternate Ending" (5:14, HD), which includes some alternate shots to the final sequence with De Niro and a final voiceover that changes the game plan for Eddie's future. Last up is the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:25, HD).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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