Limitless takes old story to new heights

Adderall and Viagra have nothing on NZT-48, which makes a person impossibly smart and focused — until of course, the effects wear off and the unlisted side effects kick in.

It’s a trite lesson tied in with a new thriller science-fiction twist: What if there were a miracle pill that would unleash the full potential of brainpower?

Playing off the notion that humans only use about 10 percent of their brain functions, Limitless toys with the danger and possibility of being a super-genius using exhilarating visual effects and an action-packed subplot.

Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a depressed bum who lives in a stink-hole in New York City’s Chinatown. He’s a writer, except he has yet to write a single sentence. His girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish), sick of being his bank account, dumps him.

That same day, as he wanders back to his home, he bumps into his sleazy ex-wife’s brother (Johnny Whitworth), who hooks him up with a clear pill as inconspicuous as a collar button. Unsurprisingly, it’s not FDA-approved.

The movie first introduces a well-groomed, handsome Eddie in a smart business suit, teetering on the high-rise balcony of his new $8 million loft, while a gang of Russian thugs tries to chainsaw their way through his blast-resistant steel door.

Although the premise sounds worn, the movie’s visual effects really make it stand out.

At one point, the camera travels down that same glass building, whooshing through the streets of Manhattan and screeching back months earlier at the café ,where Eddie gets dumped.

Limitless is not a movie to watch on your laptop or iPhone screen. The stunning cinematography and visual effects deserve to be enjoyed in an IMAX.

Even though it has no 3-D effects, the film makes you feel like you’re leaping out of your seat, leaving you in a dizzy whirl.

Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) does an excellent job of transporting the audience into Eddie’s pharmaceutically jacked-up mind each time he takes the pill. The whole world warms up in a golden glow and distorts in fisheye vision, every detail suddenly inescapable.

Eddie then finds himself advising his landlord’s wife on her graduate thesis paper (and seducing her) and later opening up his laptop and churning out half a novel in one night.

But as with any other drug, the effects wear off, and Eddie is left wanting more. After a panic attack, greed takes over and Eddie ransacks his now-dead former brother-in-law’s apartment and pockets a full bag of NZT-48 pills.

With an escalating dose of these pills, Eddie racks up millions in the stock market and coaches corporate tycoon Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro) on complex mega-mergers. He masters the piano in three days, flirts with a waitress in fluent Italian and charms high society with his intelligence.

But Eddie soon realizes he’s not the only person who has popped NZT-48. There are others — all of whom are either dead or gravely ill.

As Eddie starts experiencing the dark effects of the drug, such as losing track of time, he also finds himself stalked by a mysterious scarred fellow and a Russian loan shark with a penchant for flaying his victims (Andrew Howard), demanding a piece of NZT-48.

Not much is realistic in this movie. There are some cheesy moments, such as when Eddie breezily beats up seven men à la Bruce Lee, or when the room starts pelting shiny alphabet letters as Eddie furiously types his novel.

But toss aside the boundaries of logic and embrace the limitless, and you’ll find yourself sucked into the movie’s fast-paced plot and colorful characters.

Cooper shifts between the roles of pathetic addict and suave high-profiler with convincing ease. It doesn’t take all 100 percent of your brain to appreciate his fluid charisma on screen.

All other characters take on minor supporting roles, but with individual aplomb.

De Niro is cool and gruff as usual, a subtle smirk or scowl projecting neat character depth.

Howard, as bone-chilling as his character, delivers his lines with such humorous sincerity that you cannot help liking him — until he lays out his torture devices. Whitworth oozes slime and cockiness during the few precious moments he has on-screen.

Limitless could have taken a deep psychological moral stance, but writer Leslie Dixon wisely skirts preachy philosophies and punches in typical Hollywood entertainment with just enough chase, blood and sex.

It might not thrill your mind, but it will thrill your every sense and leave you tingling at the edge of your seat.