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Bradley Cooper gets smart in an intelligent thriller about intelligence.

Rod Lott July 25th, 2011

Meet Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper, "The Hangover Part II"), a near-penniless sci-fi novelist with an impending deadline, writer's block and not one word put to digital paper. Then a chance meeting on


Then a chance meeting on the street with a former in-law introduces him to a wild, new experimental drug called NZT-48 that unlocks all of the brain's synapses to make you super-smart and super-productive before the effects wear off.

Suddenly, he's not only on a creative spree, but making a fortune playing the stock markets, winning back his editor girlfriend (an underutilized Abbie Cornish, "Sucker Punch") and even eating toast points! Toast points! When Eddie is jacked on NZT-48, director Neil Burger ("The Illusionist") employs numerous, nifty visual tricks to give audiences an approximation of his high.

But every high has a low. For Eddie, it's when nefarious goons start following him, as well as increased doses causing a wrinkle in time — a skip — in which he does not recall going from Point A to Point B, asking in the words of David Byrne, "Well, how did I get here?"

For the movie, it's the introduction of a corporate bigwig (Robert De Niro, who isn't even trying) that makes viewers begin to sense a crash. His character's name is Van Loon, for chrissake — a far-from-subtle touch that clashes against the first half's shrewdness. De Niro's entrance and subsequent plot direction doesn't derail "Limitless" — far from it — but the sci-fi-infused thriller does lose a sizable amount of forward momentum.

As slick as Cooper is charismatic, "Limitless" was a sleeper hit this spring, emerging seemingly from nowhere, and its box-office success has been attributed to audiences' tighter embrace of its leading man. There's little doubt he's now a star, and the appeal of the film really rests on the favor he holds in your head. Few others could get away with such a cocksure final line and not leave viewers steaming.

As fitting as the ending is, the Blu-ray includes a five-minute alternate closer that the cover boasts "changes everything!" yet really only changes a little, and proves less satisfying. —Rod Lott

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