Some movies are like the proverbial Chinese meal: very tasty and enjoyable while you are dining, but leaving you feeling empty and unsatisfied shortly afterwards. We went to a preview showing for the above film which opens here this week and I didn't look at my watch once. In other words, it held my interest with its unusual storyline, flashily told by director Neil Burger in his fourth outing. His 2006 second feature, the excellent "The Illusionist", promised solid work in the future, and he certainly attacked the subject matter here with dizzying gusto, but whether the fancy camerawork was useful in providing anything other than mild nausea is something of a moot point. Several hours after viewing this concoction, its initial impact had faded and I was left pondering the implausibilities and logical plot-holes that had carried me along earlier.
The premise is intriguing. Having been told umpteen times that we all coast along using but a small proportion of our potential brainpower, what would happen if a simple pill could unlock our full capacity? Bradley Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a scruffy, non-achieving author with a severe case of writer's block. A chance meeting with his ex-brother-in-law, who has always moonlighted as a dealer (not in stocks and bonds!) gifts Morra with a simple transparent tablet, a designer drug called NVC. Immediately he is able to complete his book in four days, learn to play the piano, tidy his pigsty of an apartment, and bed his landlord's naggy wife who is dunning him for back rent. He finds the stash at the murdered dealer's flat and uses it to develop his 'four-digit IQ', amazing all and sundry with his remarkable abilities. He is now able to recall and adapt every piece of information to which he has ever been casually exposed, including being able to fight like Bruce Lee to see off a bunch of subway thugs! He moves from being a total loser to the bumptious best boy on the block.
This brings him to the attention of a ruthless financial tycoon, appropriately named Carl Van Loon, played by Robert De Niro on auto-pilot. Cooper, who has become omnipresent since his break-through role in "The Hangover" two years ago, does an adequate job, although nearly any youngish actor could have taken it on (although thankfully not Shia LaBeouf for whom the role was apparently originally intended). The two main female roles, Abbie Cornish as Morra's on-again, off-again girlfriend and Anna Friel as his ex-wife, are badly underwritten, leaving the two actresses as unformed ciphers. However, through Friel we learn that others who have toyed with the drug are generally dead or dying -- not that this deters Morra's growing dependency.
Thrown in are a number of idiotic sub-plots including that of a violent Russian money-lender who has found out about the drug, Morra's being framed for a murder that he may or may not have committed, and a mogul's mad and murderous P.A. pursuing Cooper and Cornish to get his hands on their supply. There's also evidence of Morra's growing paranoia as he hires bodyguards and rents a supposedly thief-proof apartment (which the Russians and his goons turn into confetti). It seems that half the world and his sister know about this remarkable drug and the ending, when it comes, is only satisfying in the very short term. Then, all the questions about what one has just watched start rearing their ugly heads. Enjoy the film for its 100-odd minutes' roller coaster ride, but don't think too much about it afterwards.