Limitless & Sucker Punch: Two reviews
LIMITLESS: (Two & a half stars out of Five) The premise of director Neil Burger's pseudo-thriller Limitless is reminiscent of the idea behind the book "Flowers for Algernon" (Adapted into film as Charlie, starring Cliff Robertson). That book was the story of a simple man who was turned into a genius by a medical experiment. This film gives us the story of a lazy, irresponsible slacker who is given a pill which allows him to become "a perfect version of himself".
Actually, the film is based on an inaccurate scientific myth. The long accepted fallicy is that we only use between 10-20 percent of our total brain capacity. This is not true. We only use 10-20 percent at any given time, but we do use all of our brain.
Bradley Cooper (The A-Team; the Hangover) plays unmotivated Eddie Morra, who has no job and has been trying to write a book for years but has not written a word yet. He is out of money and his successful girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) dumps him. The landlord wants the rent. His publishers want to know when he is going to produce that book because they gave him an advance (which Eddie already spent.)
Eddie coincidentally runs into his former brother-in-law who has some special pills that allows Eddie to access his full brain power and have 100% recollection of every fact he's ever heard since he was a child, and the ability to 'file' them in a more accessible way. Eddie loves this new super power, because it allows him to finish his book in hours. He goes back for more pills. When his old brother-in-law is killed by persons unknown, Eddie snatches the whole stash of magic pills, and begins downing them like cough drops.
The new perfect version of Eddie becomes a successful Wall Street investor. He is suddenly popular with people who once shunned him, and he wins Lindy back. His amazing skills also bring him to the attention of a millionaire named (are you ready for this?) Carl Von Loon. (Robert De Niro.) Von Loon recruits Eddie's help for the biggest corporate merger in history. Eddie also becomes a martial arts master due to 'muscle memory' and having watched Bruce Lee movies. (His kung-fu fight scene is taken almost exactly from Old Boy.)
Eddie is in trouble with the loan shark he once borrowed money from, and the guy wants more than cash. He gets a taste of Eddie's pills and now he likes being smart. The small-time thug wants the pills so he can start his own criminal empire. Eddie tries to evade him but the crook is relentless.
Eddie begins to have black-outs and loses time. His brain just can't handle the speed at which it's working and he finds hours of his life missing. He considers quitting but he can't give up the power. Also, he learns that other people who tried to quit the drug have died. So what will Eddie do when he runs out?
The film poses several interesting questions about the nature of the human mind and what constitutes intelligence but it doesn't really answer them. Eddie's improved memory makes him a success but he still makes some stupid mistakes. "You didn't earn these powers" Von Loon tells Eddie, giving a bit of a moral to the story. Eddie never really explores the full extent of his abilities, becoming satisfied with being a Wall Street wizard (a total change from his former artistic slant) and not experimenting with any out-of-the-box thinking. Most of the film plays out like a typical thriller, not utilizing it's premise enough. The film also introduces a subplot about a murder which is soon forgotten and never resolved.
Bradley Cooper is a strange choice to play a super-genius. Certainly he seems like the type to play slacker Eddie but who would have thought he could pull off Perfect Eddie. Surprisingly, he manages to do just that. Cooper may have more potential then he's shown us in the past.
And then we come to De Niro as Von Loon. The once-great De Niro sleepwalks through yet another role. He plays a caricature of Robert De Niro, using the usual De Niro mannerisms, and the patented De Niro sneer. You can't actually say he acts in the film, accept to say that he acts like Robert De Niro. (Oh brother! does anyone remember when De Niro was the mark of quality in films? Is this the same guy from Taxi Driver, Godfather 2, the Deer Hunter and Raging Bull?)
There are some good ideas in here and its a shame that the film focuses on the standard business-as-usual material instead of giving us a look into the mind of someone who truly thinks differently than the rest of the world. This isn't a bad film, just a missed opportunity.
SUCKER PUNCH: (One & a Half stars out of Five)
The strange contradiction in director Zack Snyder's new film Sucker Punch, is that it masquerades as an example of feminist empowerment when, it actuality, it is a geeky adolescent male fantasy about sexy teenage girls in skimpy outfits performing fantastic stunts and doing lots of violence against everything from serpents to samurai.
This is the first film that Snyder (Watchmen, the 300) has made which is not a remake or comic Book adaptation. A self-proclaimed geek, his first attempt at writing an original script has comic book sensibilities, combined with an antic video game style. It looks great but it's a muddled mess of illogic.
The film starts with a girl known as Babydoll (a pouty, purse-lipped Emily Browning) losing her mother and almost being raped by her despicable step-father. When the step dad tries to rape Babydoll's sister, Babydoll fights back with unfortunate results. Dirty dad then has her committed against her will to an institution for girls. To Babydoll's dismay, the nasty owners of the place, (Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac) have turned it into a brothel where the pretty young girls are forced to dance sexy dances for high-rolling clients (One of whom is played by Jon Hamm.) Babydoll meets four fellow female castoffs, each of which is a walking cliche. Tough girl Rocket (Jena Malone), streetwise Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), loyal Amber (Jamie Chung) and nice-girl Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish again). Every time one of the girls starts to dance, Snyder cuts the film to an alternate reality where the girls are warriors.
The otherworldy action sequences are meant to be a vague 'is-it-real-or-isn't-it?' scenario, such as in the wonderful Pan's Labyrinth, which gave us a layer of unreality that underscored and ran parallel to the the more mundane reality of the main plot. It was left to the viewer to decide what the reality was. This film is not done so artfully. Are the girls in Sucker Punchreally being whisked away to perform super-skilled, action missions for a mysterious wise man (Scott Glenn) who tells them that if they succeed in gathering the objects he sends them to collect, they will be free? Or is this all in Babydoll's mind, as a way of dealing with her horrible situation?
The problem with the fantasy world adventures in Sucker Punchis that they do not add to or parallel Babydoll's real situation. They're just a random series of vido-game styled action sequences, set in a bunch of different, bizarre landscapes. All that happens in these weird worlds is a lot of shooting, fighting and various types of mindless violence that seems to have no point. The action is a digression from the "real" world plot, which does not get a lot of screen time, but it should have, since that's where the emotion of the film lies. Sadly, Snyder isn't interested in emotion. He's interested in explosions!
The five teen heroines are meant to be an empowering 'girl-power' gang. However, everything in the film is geared toward young male viewers. The action in this film is not geared toward the Twilight audience. Also, the girls wear revealing little outfits with short skirts (Which are very reminiscent of the uniforms in the popular Sailor Moon anime series, which actually is aimed at young girls), and they perform as young exotic dancers for men. This is a fantasy for teenage boys, not female empowerment for girls.
On the positive side, Zack Snyder is one of the most visually engaging directors out there. The film is full of great FX shots and highly imaginative backgrounds. Snyder has a unique visual style. He's like an action-obsessed version of Terry Gilliam. He's a better action director than he is a writer, because his first script fails to live up to its potential. It never nears the artistry of Pan's Labyrinth or the intellectual puzzles of the mind bending/reality bending Inception. If you shut off the thinking part of your brain and just enjoy the chaos, Sucker Punch might be a fun day at the movies. If you're asking for anything more, then you're going to feel like a sucker!