Not being the biggest fan of The Hangover, I had doubts as to whether Bradley Cooper, with his leer of frat-house entitlement, could ever be more than a lightweight leading man. But in Limitless, a potently fanciful and fun thriller about a drug that turns you into a genius, Cooper proves a cock-of-the-walk movie star. He plays Eddie, a scraggly aspiring novelist who gets hold of an untested pharmaceutical pill called NZT that invites its user to turn on his brain — i.e., to activate the fabled other 80 percent of mental agility that (according to neuroscience) none of us use. Popping the pill, Eddie feels like he’s jacked up on cocaine or speed, but it’s really his synapses crackling with all the stored memories and connections that are usually kept unconscious. Suddenly he can talk about anything, and Cooper, his blue eyes lit up like lasers, his words twitchy with eager command, rules everyone he sees: a landlord’s pesky wife, a crew of Eurotrash revelers, the players of Wall Street.
As Eddie cleans up his act, Cooper, in natty dark suits, gives a performance too intense to be funny. He’s so charismatic in his verbal seductions that he suggests a faster version of the young Mickey Rourke. NZT, of course, is too good to be true, and Eddie must suffer the consequences, which arrive in classic thriller form: a strange man tailing him, a Russian loan shark who wants his supply of the drug, and an increasingly dicey relationship with Carl Van Loon, a corporate tycoon played with enjoyably dry distemper by Robert De Niro. Limitless just wants to give you a good time, and it does, yet the film leaves you wondering: Now that our world has been saturated with antidepressants, is this where big pharma strikes next? B+