Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a struggling writer whose life hasn't gone the way he thought it was. His girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) leaves him, his publisher won't read his material, and he's about to get kicked out of his shack of an apartment. All that changes when he runs into Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), his ex-brother-in-law and a known drug dealer. Vernon gives Eddie a pill that he accepts as FDA approved (the first in a long list of plot holes) and which he is told will allow him to use 100 percent of his brain. Upon taking it, he discovers that with that much brain capacity he can basically do anything. He turns a few bucks into big money, reunites with his girlfriend, and is soon working for a Wall Street bigwig named Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro). Soon, though, the drugs side effects become painfully obvious and he is forced to fight for survival while being pressed upon from all sides.
First and foremost, I hated Cooper's character and I cared not if he lived or died. Cooper is good at playing unlikable characters ("Wedding Crashers") but I don't think that was the goal here. His transition from near-homeless writer to Wall Street baller is pathetic and stupid. It's like in a teen film when the "ugly nerd" cuts her hair and loses her glasses and suddenly becomes the new hottie. Actually, it's EXACTLY like that minus the glasses. Laughable. The narrative itself is ripe with plot holes and inconsistencies and it makes you wonder if the script was unfinished when director Neil Burger said, "Screw it, we're shooting" and off they went. Nowhere is this more evident than in the conclusion which literally feels like Burger called everyone together a week before the film's release because, "wouldn't you know, we forgot to put an ending on this thing, hahaha!" It's terrible. There's a very Philip K. Dick-esque story somewhere in here but it's so convoluted as to become embarrassing. None of the cast is used effectively. Cooper becomes obnoxious, Cornish is as one-dimensional as they come, and De Niro isn't even trying. (To be fair, if I'm De Niro, I probably wouldn't try here, either. As Michael Caine said, sometimes it's just about the pay check.)
If all of that wasn't enough, the production value behind "Limitless" is worthless. The "opening sequence in the future then flash back to the beginning" bit is tired. Only the best-told stories need to be told this way and yet we continually get average to below average films running blindly down this path. Add in a voiceover that probably could have been avoided through clever writing and you get a bundle of clichés that fail to impress on every level. Worst of all, "Limitless" wants desperately to be smart but doesn't have the brains to figure out that it simply isn't. It is like the "C+" student who is accidentally placed in the "honors" class but instead of pointing out the error in the office, he heads straight to the front of the class and writes out a jumbled equation that leaves everyone in the room scratching their heads and wondering if the "C+" student is actually a bit slow. I hate "Limitless" and now that I've written this review, I think I'm more willing to just say it's bad and be done with it.