There's No Limit to Bradley Cooper's Scruffiness

bradley cooper.jpg
Look how scruffy!
The Dinner: A pint of oatmeal stout and a salmon plate at Collins Pub (526 Second Ave.)

The Movie: Limitless at the downtown Regal Meridian (1501 Seventh Ave.)

The Screenplate: The best thing about Limitless is that it doesn't try to be anything other than entertaining. A wish-fulfillment fantasy that finds Bradley Cooper pill-popping his way to a better life, the movie eschews moral judgments about neuropharmacology or Wall Street in favor of visual trickery and slick storytelling. In short, it's a lot of fun.

When we first meet him, Cooper is a down-on-his-luck writer struggling to start the book everyone (including his very-quickly-ex-girlfriend, played by Abbie Cornish) knows he's never going to finish. Then comes a chance run-in with an unctuous ex-brother-in-law (is there any other kind?), who offers Cooper a clear tablet called NZT, a super-pill that's supposed to be FDA-approved, but not yet available.

Director Neil Burger shows off a lot in Limitless. There's a telescopic zoom effect he introduces in the opening credits, infrequent stylized flashbacks, and a host of other flourishes that help make the movie's 105 minutes zip along. But the most interesting visual choice Burger makes is in how he shows what it feels like to suddenly become a genius.

After Cooper takes NZT, the world makes sense to him. He finishes his novel in three days, the same amount of time it takes him to master the piano and become fluent in French, along with any other language that might come in handy when ordering at a fancy restaurant. Burger represents his hero's newfound point of view with a fish-eye lens and a screen saturated with color. It's as if the light bulb that has gone off in Cooper's head is of such a high wattage that it illuminates everything around him.

Credit the movie--or Alan Glynn, the Irish novelist who wrote the techno-thriller The Dark Fields from which Limitless is adapted--for a premise that, in today's Adderall-addled world, at least seems probable. Credit him also for shelving his writer's ego and acknowledging that, once blessed with superhuman cognition, Cooper would probably find some higher ambition than simply becoming the next H.P. Lovecraft.

Once Cooper realizes his powers, he quickly deduces that the best way to get the most out of them--besides getting laid a lot--is to make an obscene amount of money as the world's best day trader. This success he leverages into a meeting with Robert De Niro, who stole some untold number of millions from the film's producers by sleepwalking through a part in which he's asked to play a less avuncular Warren Buffett.

Naturally, because a narrative doesn't exist without conflict, it soon becomes clear that there are some obvious drawbacks to taking NZT. Like any other drug, it's expensive, hard to come by, and carries some dangerous side effects. (Seamless transition alert . . . ) The same can't be said for the food at Collins Pub.

Take this endorsement for what it's worth because, as a pescatarian, I don't eat half of what Collins offers, but I've never had a bad meal there. The salmon plate is technically an appetizer, but the hunk of fish is entree-sized, and comes with enough greens to make you feel like you've gotten a side salad too. It's a guilt-free experience that's also satisfying, which, come to think of it, sums up Limitless as well.

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