Thursday, May 14, 2015

Why They Call It Dope

We saw Limitless (2011) because it shared a common theme with Lucy: A drug that lets you use 100% of your brain. We weren't really expecting much, just to check this off the list. But we got a lot more.

Bradley Cooper plays a sad-sack wannabe writer. His friends tell him he looks like he's homeless. His girlfriend is avoiding him because he is always broke. But he runs into his ex-wife's brother, who is in pharmaceutical sales - not necessarily the legal kind. He gives Cooper a pill - just like in Lucy, it doesn't have a street name yet. Just like in Lucy, it makes him very smart. He recognizes a book when he can only see a corner, because he had seen it at a party 10 years before. He can sweet talk his landlord's wife into forgetting about the rent and jumping into bed with him. He can finish his book in a sitting. But when it wears off, he needs more.

His ex-brother-in-law turns up dead, but Cooper gets his stash. So he begins a new life - no longer a scuzzy loser, he gets a haircut some nice clothes and a job trading stocks. Of course, he kills at it. To make some really solid cash, he borrows some money from the Russian mob and starts planning to meet with tycoon Robert de Niro. But:

  1. His supply is running out.
  2. The drug causes weird blackouts if you keep taking it, and loss of brain power and/or death if you stop.
  3. Some very bad people, including the mob, are after him.
Can I give you a spoiler? The movie starts with Cooper ready to jump off a building. The spoiler is that everything turns out great! In a lot of ways, this is an action comedy.

It's also a great piece of pro-drug propaganda, like Lucy. I can see where it comes from - I'm sure a lot of screen writers have some experience with stimulants, they know that coke or speed can make a script appear like magic, and can do a lot of damage, but if you play your cards right, you can make the habit go away but keep the money. This is not a socially responsible message, but it is a true one, based on the Hollywood experience.

Limitless is a great visual experience, full of effects to simulate the drug's effect: Infinite zooms, time-lapse trips through streets, changes in color and angle of view, etc. You need to keep on your toes a little to catch some of the little clues planted in some of the trippy chaos, although I wouldn't call it exactly subtle. But fun to watch.

There are a lot of philosophical questions about how it all goes down - like if he's so smart, how come he doesn't secure a supply? Does the drug really make you a selfish dick, or is that a red herring? If the mobster who took the drug was so smart, how come he's dead? All of these could be answered, if you felt like it - but it's more fun to be stupid and let it just wash over you. Being smart is for people on drugs.

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