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Another night, another movie knockoff with CBS' Limitless


Brian Finch is on NZT and also on the run in Limitless. CBS photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 22nd at 9 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Jake McDorman, Jennifer Carpenter, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Hill Harper
Produced by: Craig Sweeney, Alex Kurtzman, Bradley Cooper, Roberto Orci, Heather Kadin, Marc Webb, Todd Phillips, Ryan Kavanaugh, Tucker Tooley, Tom Forman

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CBS proved to be much quicker than Fox in turning a man-on-the-run feature film into a weekly offshoot.

Fox’s Minority Report, which premiered Monday, lags well behind the same-named, 2002 Steven Spielberg-directed movie. CBS’ Limitless, launching on Tuesday, Sept. 22nd, is fairly quick on the heels of the 2011 film that starred Bradley Cooper as a stressed but empowered user of the super brain-boosting drug NZT.

The TV version lists Cooper as a co-executive producer and includes a cameo by the now high wattage big-screen star. It otherwise mainly has only NZT in common, even though Cooper is playing the same character, Eddie Mora. Except he’s become Senator Edward Mora and in effect is assuming the role played in the movie by Robert De Niro. So will the real Eddie Mora sign in, please? Yes, and he’s in the person of Brian Finch (Jake McDorman), a restive 28-year-old who once aspired to be a rock music god but lately has only the blues.

Limitless begins with Brian running from a passel of New York City law enforcers and taking them on a chase through -- what else? -- the subway system. FBI agent Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter from Dexter) gets the drop on him before Brian stares her down and also stops an oncoming train in its tracks. It’s then flashback time, with Brian narrating the sad tale of what a loser he was until NZT popped into his life and made him a mental giant.

He’s shlepping along as a temporary file clerk when a former bandmate named Eli spots him. He’s since become a prosperous investment banker via the miracles wrought by NZT. Here, try one. The new brainiac Brian -- at least until the drug wears off -- quickly figures that “the world is mine. I just have to decide what to do with it.”

One of his first steps is playing rapid-fire electric guitar on the street. Hey, it’s not that great a solo, but NYC lookers-on respond with an ovation befitting Eric Clapton in his prime. Or Jimmy Page if you prefer. John Mayer maybe?

Meanwhile, Brian’s dad is afflicted with a mysterious illness after collapsing during one of those big family dinners that only happen these days on CBS in general and Blue Bloods in particular. Can Brian diagnose him? And how about that murder being pinned on him after he finds Eli dead?

The cliche dialogue starts to pile on as Limitless weaves its way through a thicket of sub-plots. His unfulfilled son may have been receptive to the lure of NZT, Brian’s dad tells Carpenter’s investigating agent Rebecca. But he can assure her of one thing: “Our son is not a murderer.” Well, OK then.

Cooper’s character, who’s thinking about running for president, is first seen via a piercing, movie star-befitting extreme closeup. “It’s about time you and me talked,” he tells a woozy hospitalized Brian.

Mora has much more of the NZT that Brian has come to rely on. But there’s an undisclosed price to all of that. Brian also is being tugged and pulled by Rebecca. She sees him as an NZT-powered indispensable asset to the FBI and convinces stern boss “Naz” Pouran (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) to think likewise.

“Just don’t lie to me. Ever,” says Rebecca, who of course has her own traumatic past. As for dad? “I’m proud of you, kid,” he says, quoting from the connect-the-dots drama 101 manual.

Limitless might have just enough going for it to keep CBS viewers from opting out after enjoying their weekly NCIS fix of the original and its New Orleans-set spinoff. The first episode is a cut or two better than so-so, with Cooper’s brief but pivotal appearance something that many opening night viewers might be willing to wait on.

Don’t get too used to him, though. His “recurring” character likely will drop in only during a single ratings “sweeps” episode in November, February and May. Cooper has a financial investment in this TV version. But he doesn’t need NZT to deduce that too much episodic TV of this caliber could diminish his still very potent box office appeal.


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