The up­per lim­its

This brainy if slightly dated thriller is fast-paced fun, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews -

YOU HAVE TO worry a lit­tle for Lim­it­less. In re­cent years, the mar­ket for de­cent thrillers that are nei­ther se­quels nor re­makes, that are not based on comic books, that do not carry the im­pri­matur of Christo­pher Nolan has been in mis­er­able, ap­par­ently in­ex­orable de­cline. The film has done well enough in the US, but one won­ders if any such beast can stay on its feet in such a cli­mate.

Let’s hope it pre­vails. Based on a 2001 book by Alan Glynn, a tal­ented Ir­ish writer, Lim­it­less does feel a lit­tle dated in its so­cio-eco­nomic con­cerns. The plot is a lit­tle un­fo­cused; the flash is, at times, a bit too flashy. But, as high-con­cept romps go, Lim­it­less re­ally de­liv­ers. It’s not the best film re­leased this week, but it is the most fun.

You don’t have to be a writer to dis­cern the ori­gins of Glynn’s

irish­times.com/cul­ture

orig­i­nal con­cept. Bradley Cooper, the like­able, slyly charm­ing star of The Hang­over, stars as Ed­die, a se­ri­ously blocked nov­el­ist. Ed­die’s sink over­flows with filth. His hair has mat­ted into (by the stan­dard of peo­ple like Bradley Cooper) ne­glected knots of greasy mat­ter.

One day Ed­die’s for­mer brother in law, once a drug dealer, calls round and in­tro­duces him to a magic pill. One dose of this NZT-48 can un­leash unimag­ined lev­els of creativ­ity and turn even the wea­ri­est loser into an in­tel­lec­tual dy­namo.

Ed­die downs the drug and ham­mers out a saleable novel in a mat­ter of days. He gives up the booze, ti­dies his flat, tones his body, learns a dozen lan­guages and, af­ter a few hours study, starts mak­ing for­tunes on the stock ex­change. (Would it be ill-spir­ited to point out that not ev­ery ge­nius does the dishes reg­u­larly? It would. So, let’s pass on.)

Along the way, he en­coun­ters both a small-scale street hood­lum and a flash cor­po­rate raider. The lat­ter, a Rus­sian bruiser from whom Ed­die bor­rows seed fund­ing, be­gins lurk­ing in the al­ley­ways out­side his door. The lat­ter, played by a barely con­scious Robert De Niro, is plot­ting a takeover of the fi­nan­cial uni­verse.

Let’s deal with those few nag­ging is­sues. The Wall Street through which Ed­die prowls – his ca­reer as a writer largely for­got­ten – be­haves as it did when Glynn wrote the novel. Money is still fizzing about the streets and, sum­mon­ing up mem­o­ries of the En­ron mis­un­der­stand­ing, Ed­die’s new cor­po­rate part­ners be­lieve the fu­ture is in en­ergy trad­ing. The film-mak­ers can­not be blamed for in­clud­ing a tiny sub­plot in­volv­ing Libya, but too much of the pic­ture plays like a pe­riod piece.

All that noted, Lim­it­less of­fers view­ers a de­li­ciously en­ter­tain­ing amal­gam of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Flow­ers for Al­ger­non (filmed as Charly). Edeie fast re­alises that, un­less prop­erly man­aged, the drug can cause dis­tress­ing – not to say, mur­der­ous – side ef­fects. He be­gins to imag­ine that, when hopped up, an­other, less pleas­ant ver­sion of him­self prowls the streets in­flict­ing aw­ful may­hem in blame­less quar­ters.

Mean­while, it be­comes ap­par­ent that Ed­die is not the only cit­i­zen to mys­te­ri­ously rise from ob­scu­rity to un­ex­pected promi­nence. NZT users lurk in many pow­er­ful cor­ri­dors.

Cooper has just the right com­bi­na­tion of sleazy al­lure and in­gen­u­ous ur­gency for a char­ac­ter fac­ing such a pre­pos­ter­ous dilemma. Neil Burger, di­rec­tor of The Il­lu­sion­ist (the Ed Nor­ton flick, not the an­i­ma­tion), has the good sense to main­tain a fu­ri­ous pace that rarely al­lows view­ers to ques­tion the ac­cu­mu­lat­ing ab­sur­di­ties.

But the film is most notable for con­tain­ing big ideas within a pop­ulist frame­work. Un­like poor Ed­die, Lim­it­less is just about smart enough to get by with­out any ar­ti­fi­cial chem­i­cal bol­ster­ing. It de­serves to be a hit. THE STRANGE res­ur­rec­tion of Ham­mer Films con­tin­ues. Af­ter their ef­fec­tive but un­nec­es­sary re­make of Let the Right One In and the largely use­less The Res­i­dent, the once iconic im­print strikes back with this Bor­der county ren­di­tion of the De­ranged Vil­lage Melo­drama.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one be­fore. A mid­dle-class ur­ban cou­ple moves in to a pretty, if strange lo­cale. Ev­ery­one seems nice at first, but be­fore long pa­gan rit­u­als are tak­ing place be­neath the sa­cred yew tree. Imag­ine a stew made from Pet Ceme­tery, The Wicker Man and Don’t Look Now and you’ll have some idea where Wake Wood is com­ing from.

It’s as prop­erly freaky as that list sug­gests. Di­rected by David Keat­ing, who gave us The Last of the High Kings 15 years ago, Wake Wood finds Pa­trick (Ai­den Gillen), a vet, and his wife Louise (re­cidi­vist scream-queen Eva Birth­his­tle) re­lo­cat­ing to the Ir­ish north­west af­ter a mad dog fa­tally sav­ages their daugh­ter. Pa­trick’s boss turns out to be Arthur, a bluff, jolly man – all tweed and cav­alry twills – given flesh by a typ­i­cally game Ti­mothy Spall.

In a scene that strays a lit­tle too close to League of Gen­tle­man ter­ri­tory, the cou­ple later catch Arthur and the lo­cals en­gag­ing in some aw­ful blood­thirsty rite with some­thing like the Aba­cus of Des­tiny.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the heroes are minded to re­turn to the com­forts of civil­i­sa­tion. But they are tempted back by a macabre sug­ges­tion from Arthur. He can raise their daugh­ter from the dead. There are, how­ever, catches that would ap­peal to the Brothers Grimm: the res­ur­rec­tion is only tem­po­rary, it only works if the child is dead less than a year, and (huge mi­nor chord!) they must not leave the vil­lage.

It’s all pretty silly. But the script con­tains more than enough brac­ing re­ver­sals and the som­bre Ul­ster skies to help sus­tain the suf­fo­cat­ing sense of cow-dung gothic. Most im­por­tantly, the cast have the wit to at­tack ev­ery scene with ad­mirable se­ri­ous­ness. There are cer­tainly mo­ments of un­in­tended hi­lar­ity with the sup­pos­edly mag­goty res­i­dents of deep­est Done­gal, but the three prin­ci­pals keep it real by play­ing it like they’re do­ing Pin­ter.

It wouldn’t be folk-hor­ror hokum other­wise.

Care­ful what you wish for: Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper in Lim­it­less

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