Despite the science-fiction premise of Limitless - a man discovers and becomes hooked on a mysterious pill that allows him to access 100 per cent of his brain power - the tablets themselves are little more than a macguffin, used to set up a solid, if not quite as clever as it thinks, thriller, while passing comment about the nature of modern society and addiction.

This means that, thankfully, there is very little exposition concerning the mystery drug - NZT - that slobby writer Eddie (Bradley Cooper) gets hold of courtesy of his former brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth). Suffice to say, the drugs do work, and under the influence Eddie finds himself going from zero to hero, writing a long-dormant novel in just a few days and spring-cleaning his apartment into the bargain - if brain power makes you houseproud, incidentally, I think I just failed kindergarten.

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Eddie wants more and as Vernon's lifestyle choices catch up with him, he finds himself in possession of the drugs stash dreams are made of. NZT doesn't help him to suddenly gain information but it does make him an incredibly quick study and lets him access seemingly random bits of knowledge he's come across in the past. It's not long before he's leaving thoughts of writing behind in favour of winning on the stock market and trying to resurrect his relationship with long-suffering girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish). There are hints of trouble brewing, though, as he finds he needs to up the dose and also discovers the 'highs' can be an unnerving whirlwind, while withdrawal comes with a host of particularly nasty side-effects, including, according to his ex Melissa (Anna Friel, made to look hideous courtesy of make-up and CGI) death.

The set-up is smart and the camera-work from Neil Burger exceptionally slick. He uses trippy, vertigo-inducing sequences to put us inside Eddie's head and there's a quick-cutting pace that would leave many recent thrillers standing in the dust. Sadly, the scripting and plotting from Mrs Doubtfire scribe Leslie Dixon (adapting here from book The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn) doesn't quite reach the same standard. Burger does an admirable job of making us 'feel' what Eddie feels, but the writing doesn't adequately demonstrate why he becomes so attractive to those around him. Yes, it's clear he adopts a devil-may-care attitude but would women really be hanging on to every word of someone talking about big business, or even a book? Unlikely. There is some interesting satire regarding wealth and attraction, not to mention the risk-taking of bankers and the nouveau riche, lurking beneath the surface, but despite this and those withdrawal and addiction issues being wafted enticingly at us as Eddie squares up against Wall Street big-hitter Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro, suitably sinister), they are all-too-easily forgotten as Dixon jumps on the action-over-intelligence bandwagon.

Before you can say 'does anywhere in the world have thugs who aren't eastern European?' Eddie is fighting to keep NZT out of the clutches of his back-street 'financier' who has a taste for the stuff, while racing against time to try to find the secret formula. A murder occurs, in which he may be implicated, but the ending is left so loose that the producers must surely be angling for a sequel. Despite hitting some decent highs along the way, the film's denoument is a real come-down. It's almost as if the project ran out of money or whole scenes were cut to preserve the runtime, as after setting up some juicy ideas, the film cheats us by ushering in conclusions which leave the words 'but how did that happen?' hanging accusingly in the air. Still, Burger's trip is well worth taking and Cooper's performance is almost as striking as his eye colour, showing he's more than capable of carrying a film.

Reviewed on: 24 Mar 2011
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Limitless packshot
A struggling writer finds himself on the up after getting hold of a drug that lets him access 100 per cent of his brain power.
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