Cooper defying the limits

Cert: 15

REMEMBER seeing that poster on the Underground with the guy from The Hangover advertising something called “The Clear Pill”? Well that was actually part of the ad campaign for Bradley Cooper’s latest film, Limitless. It’s a clever marketing trick which the film itself lives up to. Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a down on life writer living in New York.

He starts taking NZT-48, an illegal wonder drug which promises to unlock the brain’s full capacity.

Suddenly Eddie, replete with new haircut and snappy wardrobe, can do anything. He finishes his previously overdue book in four days, becomes fluent in any language he chooses and makes big money on the stock market. This catches the attention of businessman Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), who soon gives Eddie a job.

His meteoric rise to near-superhuman prowess is, obviously, too good to be true. Not only does NZT-48 have dangerous side-effects, it turns out that Eddie’s not the only person addicted to it, with problematic consequences.

Although it’s a shame De Niro is not given more to do, Cooper makes for an engaging lead, excellently capturing the amazement and increasing arrogance of a very ordinary guy placed in a very extraordinary position.

Perhaps this is a touch too extraordinary: the conceit is scientifically tenuous at best and requires a serious suspension of disbelief. But as long as you do this, it’s an engaging premise which makes Limitless an above-average thriller that’s still able to laugh at its own ridiculousness.

Harriet Noble

Cert: 12A

SET during the reign of Hadrian, this action adventure takes its cue from the same story as last year’s Centurion: what happened to the Ninth Legion, a fearsome unit of 5,000 Roman soldiers who ventured into the Scottish Highlands and disappeared?

The incident (drawn from Rosemary Sutcliffe’s novel The Eagle of the Ninth) here inspires the emperor to build his wall and declare Caledonia a no-go region.

Feisty young centurion Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) has other ideas though – his old man was the leader of the Ninth, and Marcus wants to know what happened.

Having proved his bravery in a vicious battle early in the story, he heads north with his personal slave, a young Celt named Esca, played by Jamie Bell.

This is a muddy, bloody trek through some epic Scottish landscapes, but it never becomes exciting.

Bell does his best, but Tatum is simply a void at the heart of the film, never becoming an interesting enough character for us to root for him. The dull script and plodding pace don’t help.

Timothy Barber

Cert: 12A

GWYNETH Paltrow gets another chance to prove she can sing in this musical melodrama. Taken out of rehab too early by her husband/manager James (Tim McGraw), country superstar Kelly Canter (Paltrow) embarks on a comeback tour to prove she really is Country Strong. It’s not giving too much away to say that she’s not.

The film’s message is that love is more important than fame, but as a comment on the pressures of celebrity this is hardly revelatory stuff. Kelly is loosely based on Britney Spears, but there are obvious parallels with a whole raft of famous meltdowns (Lohan, Sheen, Winehouse and so on) – hers is a story we’ve seen many times before.

A more engaging narrative is that of Kelly’s support acts, Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) and Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester). He wears cowboy hats and checked shirts and is content with playing his music in the local bar, while she’s a former beauty queen with big hair, tiny dresses and dreams of stardom. The opposites attract plot may be a little hackneyed, but it gives the film some heart and humour.

It’s this, with nicely judged performances from all four leads, that save Country Strong from being nothing more than a tired pastiche on the perils of fame.