Oh, just as a quick aside before I get started pulling this thing to bits: from the trailers I honest-to-goodness thought Bradley Cooper was Jake Gyllenhaal. Now that I look them up, they don't look all that similar, but good grief how many brown-haired scruffy youngish men are there hanging about in Hollywood? Do they all have to have the same haircut? Sheesh.
The general plot of this movie at the start is not too original (more, unusual, as in you don't see it quite as often). Cooper plays Edward Morra, a down-at-the heels would-be writer who is too depressed and out-of-focus to produce anything. He is, essentially, the most stereotypical of stereotypical smart-ish loser types. Heck, I'm one myself. He lives in a crappy apartment, he's divorced, his girlfriend left him, it's all pretty pathetic.
The character/situation development is rather undercut by this whole part of the story being narrated, by the way, and the movie begins with a flash-forward scene informing you, in no uncertain terms, that Something Bad Is Going To Happen. Even the trailers weren't too coy about the basic premise of Limitless. As a result, I spent most of the movie waiting for the surprise. That's just the problem though--there isn't one.
Limitless doesn't only lack surprise, it lacks any conflict whatsoever. Time and time again, you think some sort of conflict is going to develop--Morra is going to be forced to question what he's doing and where he's going--something is going to happen. And it never does. Terrible things occur as a result of this miracle drug that turns Morra into a super-genius. Many people die, some of them at Morra's hands. Yet what happpens in the end? He outsmarts everyone and gets away free.
This is, essentially, a story of someone who magically wins the "lottery of life". At the beginning of the movie, anyone who is struggling in their life can certainly identify with Morra's situation. Yet by the end that identification and meaning are completely stripped out. I'm not a super-genius with all the money in the world and the solutions to everything. Why the heck would I root for someone who is just because he is?
The problem is that Morra never displays any *moral* characteristics. He doesn't decide to "do good" with his newfound superpowers. He doesn't decide to bring the drug to the world (even though it's revealed by the end that he's figured out how to "beat" the horrendous side effects). At the end, he's running for president, but goodness knows what kind of policies a characterless non-entity would decide to implement. It is the ultimate in Naturalist movie-making, just a series of randomish events that don't add up to anything other than, hey, I got lucky and got a hold of a big pile of money and killed some people and drank a guy's blood and whoop, I totally got away with it! Awesome!
While that might be a fun wish-fulfillment fantasy for some, it's not a story that means anything. It reminds me of the sentiment in Terry Pratchett's novel Hat Full of Sky: "In any story worth the telling, the third wish is the one that puts everything back the way it was." It is not wishing or luck or miracle drugs that get you ahead in life.
By presenting intelligence in this light--as an amoral faculty of luck and deceit--what Limitless really conveys is a profound hatred of the intellect. But this isn't the misguided yet honest hatred of a man of limited intelligence who is suspicious or envious of something he cannot have. This is a form of what Ayn Rand called "hatred of the good for being the good"--a wish, not to seize a value, but for it to cease to exist. It is a parade of anti-intellectualism wearing the trappings of the intellect, all the worse for its sheer banality.
Fortunately, due to its banality it is likely to disappear without even a ripple. At least, one can hope.