We all know that Hollywood’s track record of turning books into movies reads like a war zone – one bomb after another. Occasionally, there’s a break in the action and books like The Lord of the Rings and The Da Vinci Code sneak through unscathed. Other times, they don’t even try to stick to the book because all they want is people to recognize the title (see the Jason Bourne books and I am Legend). More commonly, you have movies that are based on books, but have different titles - like Limitless (based on a book called The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn). This group of movies is the main reason behind that track record we talked about. I say it quite often – why do studios pay for the rights to books only to change them? Admittedly, I have not read The Dark Fields, but based on what I watched I’m sure the author is shaking his head in disgust.
Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a struggling writer with writer’s block and is about to miss his deadline. He lives like a slob, he drinks in the mornings, and his girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish), just dumped him. While stewing in all of his problems, he bumps into his ex-wife’s brother, Vernon, who gives him a pill called NZT, claiming that it will allow him to use all of his brain instead of the normal twenty percent (or whatever the latest number is) used by humans. The next thing he knows, he’s charming his landlord’s wife into having sex with him, cleaning his apartment, and churning out pages for his book. He goes to Vernon to get more pills and finds Vernon dead and Vernon’s apartment trashed. While waiting for the cops, Eddie finds Vernon’s stash of pills, along with some cash, and takes it for himself. It seems as if this is the introduction for the conflict – who killed Vernon and will they come after Eddie next? Don’t hold your breath because this question is never really answered nor is it the conflict. This is where I have to believe the movie took a horribly wrong turn from the book.
The conflicts Eddie faces are a pissed off Russian loan shark, a powerful businessman, a mysterious guy following him, and side effects from taking the drug. Whoa, whoa, whoa! That’s a lot of fricking conflict, especially considering that each of them barely connects with the rest. Eddie borrows money from the Russian in order to make a fortune in the stock market, which gets noticed by the businessman, Carl van Loon (Robert de Niro), who hires Eddie to help him complete a merger, at which time Eddie finds himself being followed around by the mystery man and suffering blackouts from taking too many NZT pills. Did you follow all of that? Well, it gets even more convoluted and only thirty minutes of the film have gone by.
Eddie forgets to pay the Russian, even though he is super-duper smart, and the Russian starts forcing Eddie to supply him with NZT after taking one from Eddie. Meanwhile, Eddie’s blackouts have apparently caused him to kill a woman and he can no longer focus on the merger, giving de Niro a reason to make his patented sourpuss face. The mystery man is still following him and Lindy (she took him back because he’s sooooo smart now) and the cops are trying to pin the murder on him. His ex-wife tells him the pills are “really bad” and he shouldn’t stop taking them because it will kill him (or something), so he hires a chemist to continue making them. Eddie’s lawyer steals his pills and submarines the merger, the Russian guy tries to kill Eddie, and the mystery man goes after the lawyer. Whew! I wish I had some NZT just to follow this ADD-film.
Okay, so maybe I’m summarizing a bit too much, but that really is how the movie goes. It makes a little more sense with some of the details, but none of it meshes well together. The worst part of it all is that Eddie is supposed to be “…fifty moves ahead. That’s what it does for you,” but he continues to get into situations where the solution is always to kill the person causing the problem. No strategy, no plans, no super-thinking, not even a McGyver-esque solution. And if there isn’t someone to kill, the problem just vanishes and everything is okay. The film even ends with one last blackmail attempt that will leave you wondering why they even bothered to include it.
Story aside, the other aspects of the film do not garner it any points. The acting is passable, except for de Niro, who has clearly forgotten anything he may have learned in the past, simply mugging and sourpussing his way through his scenes. The music is completely forgettable (I’m not even sure there was any) and the visual effects are cheap and amateur, resorting to an odd telescoping effect that’s supposed to relay that Eddie is, indeed, smart. Worst of all, the film contains an enormous amount of narration, which means that the writer and director were either too lazy or simply incapable of portraying the story using pictures and dialogue.
When it’s all said and done, you won’t hate the movie, but you will feel like a large piece of it was missing. You will wonder why problems continue to spiral on Eddie and then magically resolve themselves without him using his new-found powers. Finally, you will wonder why Hollywood continues to perpetuate their record of terrible adaptations of books.
Rating: Ask for six dollars back. You’re smart enough to know when you’ve been overcharged.