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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Limitless' a visually stunning homage to style

Limitless (PG-13)

3 stars out of 4

Since his breakout role as the sleaze-ball jock in "Wedding Crashers," Bradley Cooper has been filmmakers' go-to guy whenever over-styled hair, azure peepers, a thousand-watt smile and a perpetual 5 o'clock shadow is required. Normally men this good looking can't act their way out of a paper bag, but Cooper is an exception. His timing is impressive and his range considerable.

"Limitless" gives Cooper his first real shot as a dramatic leading man, and save for a couple of instances where he becomes overtly precious, he pulls it off. The movie isn't perfect (few thrillers are) and it is highly derivative, but it always keeps us guessing and delivers a most unexpected ending.

Eddie (Cooper) is a disheveled underachiever living off of the good graces of his soon to be ex-girlfriend Lindy (Nicole Kidman's separated-at-birth twin Abbie Cornish). For reasons never given, Eddie has received a huge advance for a novel but is stuck with full-time writer's block and shows little signs of wanting to fix it.

One day Eddie runs into his ex-brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), whom he knew years ago as an illegal drug dealer. Vernon still is in the drug trade but now reps the newly created product NTZ and thinks Eddie would benefit greatly from using it. Instead of the usual 20, NTZ allows the user to utilize 100 percent of his brain.

Initially scoffing at the idea, Eddie -- now a little more than desperate -- takes it and it immediately rocks his world. His senses are heightened and he can recall everything he's ever seen or heard without any letdown or nasty side effects. Eddie cleans himself up, finishes his book in four days and decides to move on to bigger and better things.

Up to this point "Limitless" -- based on the 2001 novel "The Dark Field" by Alan Glynn -- is basically a modern, high-tech version of "Flowers for Algernon" minus the mental health angle. Eddie becomes a financial wunderkind, beds gorgeous women the world over and grabs the attention of important people in high places, most notably business tycoon Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro). At the exact time Eddie can go on to secure a lifetime of riches and fame, his supply of NZT starts to dwindle and the constant, prolonged use of it starts to take its toll.

Taking up where he left off with "The Illusionist," director Neil Burger puts heavy emphasis on style and visuals while never losing sight of the story. Whether intending to or not, Burger's film recalls the mind-bending, sleight-of-hand of "Inception," the twisted black humor of "Fight Club," the drug subplot of "The Matrix" and razor-sharp paranoia of "Strange Days." It might be unfair to call what Burger is doing here a rip off but, at one point screenwriter Leslie Dixon has Eddie say to two bodyguards: "Try not to dress alike. This isn't 'The Matrix.'"

It's just as easy to label what Burger's attempting here as homage. Mixing this many styles in this kind of seamless and undetectable manner is no mean feat, even if it's not completely original. It's highly entertaining and (thank goodness) not available in 3-D. For this Berger owes much to his editors Tracy Adams and Naomi Geraghty as well as cinematographer Jo Willems. It goes without saying that "Limitless" is something you should see on the biggest screen possible. Don't you dare wait for the DVD or Blu-ray. (Relativity Media)