The Films of Neil Burger
Interview with the Assassin
The Lucky Ones (September 26/08)
There's little doubt that The Lucky Ones benefits substantially from the strength and charisma of its three leads, as the inclusion of several egregiously inauthentic interludes ultimately dampens the film's overall effect. The slight storyline follows three soldiers (Tim Robbins' Cheever, Rachel McAdams' Colee, and Michael Pena's TK) as they embark on a road trip after their respective flights are cancelled, with the bulk of the film devoted to the low-key and character-building conversations that ensue en route. Filmmaker Neil Burger does a nice job of fleshing out each of the central characters, which ultimately ensures that The Lucky Ones is at its best when focused solely on the more intimate moments between the trio. It's only as Burger and co-writer Dirk Wittenborn slowly-but-surely introduce other elements into the proceedings that one's interest starts to wane, as it becomes increasingly easy to roll one's eyes at the heavy-handed vignettes that begin cropping up on an all-too-frequent basis (ie Colee has a run-in with laughably obnoxious sorority girls, Cheever's wife can barely hide her contempt when he arrives home, etc). Such problems are exacerbated by a serious loss of momentum that occurs within the film's third act, with the decision to split up the leads certainly not doing the already-erratic film any favors. And while the ingratiating performances ensure that the whole thing remains consistently watchable, The Lucky Ones - saddled with an overlong running time - is never quite able to make the kind of emotional impact on the viewer that Burger is clearly striving for.
Directed by Neil Burger, Limitless follows struggling author Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) as he unleashes his inner genius after repeatedly ingesting an experimental new drug - with complications ensuing as Eddie is subsequently pursued by a number of sinister figures. Burger, working from Leslie Dixon's screenplay, has infused Limitless with a propulsive opening half hour that proves instrumental in initially capturing the viewer's attention, with the inherently compelling atmosphere heightened by Burger's over-the-top visual choices and Cooper's consistently charismatic work. It's only as the movie progresses into its increasingly dark (and increasingly conventional) midsection that one's interest begins to wane, as Limitless essentially transforms into a fairly standard drama revolving around a junkie who is attempting to both find his next fix and evade the encroaching advances of various lowlifes - with the film eventually settling into the groove of a watchable yet far-from-engrossing high-finance thriller. The passable atmosphere persists right up until the surprisingly brutal climax rolls around, as Burger offers up a taunt, action-packed finale that almost feels out of place yet is undeniably quite entertaining - which ultimately cements Limitless' place as a thoroughly uneven piece of work that does benefit substantially from its compelling premise and Cooper's engaging turn as the affable protagonist. (Robert De Niro, on the other hand, offers up a typically bland and hopelessly uninvolving performance as a mysterious businessman.)