DVD Release Date: July 19, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: March 18, 2011
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material involving a drug, violence including disturbing images, sexuality and language)
Genre: Thriller
Run Time: 105 min.
Director: Neil Burger
Actors: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish, Andrew Howard, Anna Friel, Johnny Whitworth

Part anti-drug message movie, part paranoid thriller and part star vehicle for Bradley Cooper (The Hangover), Limitless is only partly enjoyable. Its story leaves viewers mildly satisfied, but sensing that the film could have been better.

The fault lies more with the screenplay than the performances. Written by Leslie Dixon (Hairspray, Pay It Forward), Limitless is a cautionary tale about Eddie Morra (Cooper), a writer who can’t figure out how to begin the book he’s been contracted to author. His inability to focus is symptomatic of greater mental drift in his life; he’s let himself go physically and taken on the look of a vagrant. His shagginess and lack of effort aren’t sitting well with his girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish, Bright Star), who leaves him. Eddie appears to be in danger of freefalling into a life of squalor.

That’s how we meet Eddie in the film’s first moments—on the ledge of a balcony, ready to jump. It’s Eddie himself who informs us, via voiceover, about the fix in which he finds himself: Through a chance encounter with his former brother-in-law, Vernon (Johnny Whitworth, 3:10 to Yuma), Eddie has conquered his writer’s block, thanks to NTZ, a drug that’s still in the testing phase. Vernon, a pharmaceutical rep, has a stash of NTZ, which allows people to use 100 percent of their mental capacity rather than the smaller percentage Vernon claims is commonly used.

It takes just one dose to turn Eddie’s world upside-down—for the better, at first. The book writes itself, but Eddie doesn’t stop there. He starts picking stocks, and his success catches the eye of corporate baron Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro, Little Fockers), who taps Eddie to help his company complete a major merger.

But the wonder drug has major side effects. As Eddie investigates, he learns that other users of the secret drug have died or been hospitalized. Plus, other people want a piece of Eddie’s stash, and they’re willing to do anything to ensure that Eddie keeps them supplied with NZT. Eddie has to devise ways to stay a step ahead of menacing thugs who want access to Eddie’s diminishing number of pills.

Limitless is, in part, a slick parable about the dangers of drug use: Once you try a little, you want more and more—until you lose control and your life unravels. The film moves at a brisk pace during its first half hour as it reveals the background to Eddie’s slow descent and turnaround courtesy of NTZ.

His meteoric rise into financial guru and Van Loon apprentice carries another familiar Hollywood message: Corporate biggies are merciless bad guys who deserve a comeuppance. De Niro, so good in last year’s Stone, has at least one great moment in Limitless, as he upbraids Eddie for daring to suggest he can play Van Loon’s game better than the veteran company leader can. Limitless might have been better had the introduction of De Niro’s character not occurred until well past 30 minutes into the story.