Were you aware that Bradley Cooper is a major movie star? I wasn’t, until the past week or so, when the deluge of stories insisting on just that—mainly predicated on the fact that he’s finally top-lining a movie, the fairly silly-looking Limitless—began appearing.
Coop has worked his way up over the past decade or so. His first real blip on pop culture radar screens came with the TV series Alias, wherein his goofy, wimpy reporter character soon became a frequently shirtless man of action (just one example of that poor show’s misbegotten squandering of its onetime promise), after which he got a chance to star in his very own lousy Fox series, Kitchen Confidential.
Sitcoms based on Anthony Bourdain memoirs don’t figure into the fawning profiles preceding this Friday’s opening of Limitless, however. Instead, The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Carrie Rickey gushes that Coop “not only holds his own opposite [co-star Robert] DeNiro, but also in two scenes his character wipes the carpet with his idol’s.” (One wonders if Rickey is aware that no less a master thespian than Piper Perabo did the same in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.)
Then there’s the slurpfest that appeared in The New York Times on Sunday, where Jonah Weiner stops just short of pinching himself to make sure that breathing the same air as Coop isn’t just some indescribably wonderful dream:
In Malibu, as the sun rose, Mr. Cooper delivered a barrage of questions, trying to sniff out telltale signs of a fellow movie-geek:
Did I like Ernst Lubitsch? Was there a better Tony Perkins performance than "Psycho?" Did I properly adore that shot in “The Fighter” where David O. Russell just crams Micky’s sisters onto the couches? During this grilling Mr. Cooper retained an air of boyish affability: quick with a fraternal backslap, grinning broadly. At one point he struggled to recall the name of Jack Lemmon’s co-star in “Mass Appeal.” “Great actor ... it’s ... Zeljko Ivanek!” He raised his palm for a congratulatory high five. “Come on!”
When Weiner’s able to catch his breath (and, one hopes, a post-coital cigarette), he points out that the reason for all this anointing of Coop is predicated on the fact that Hollywood’s starving for a name to add to the “30-something A-list,” alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds “and, to some degree, Channing Tatum.” (The degree in question would put you well into a life-threatening fever, if Tatum’s resume to date is any indication.)
Coop’s anointment as one of The Greats is predicated almost entirely on The Hangover, the improbably successful comedy whose box office performance was due in large part more to Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms (and, hell, Mike Tyson) than it was to Coop. But while the deliberately funny guys continue to seek out comedic roles, Coop’s meant to be taken as a serious type (notwithstanding The Hangover and its forthcoming sequel and the D.O.A. version of The A-Team). He’s costarring with DeNiro! (So did Don Johnson in Machete, but never mind.)
It’s impossible to judge Coop’s actual acting abilities at this point. To date he’s been most successful playing a prick whose tolerability varies between in-on-the-joke (The Hangover) to defiantly outside-looking-in (Wedding Crashers). Attempts to be cuddly have either crashed (A-Team) or been lost in the crowd (Valentine’s Day, The Yes Man), and even his attempts at genre trash (the indelibly titled Midnight Meat Train) have been met with a shrug.
So what’s with all the gooey salutes? (This from The Washington Post: “It’s hard to believe a guy like Bradley Cooper ever wrestles with self-doubt. For starters, just look at him. He exudes an effortless, golden-boy handsomeness, with eyes so crystalline Crayola should strongly consider naming a crayon after them.” Insulin, anyone?)
It can’t really be that Limitless is going to be a classic, can it? At a glance it looks like a vaguely-diverting film in The Matrix/Adjustment Bureau mode, where unseen forces (in this case, some kind of wonder drug) gives the main character superhuman abilities; in this case, the gift for accessing parts of the brain not normally used to amass fame and fortune. It’s kind of Wall Street meets Inception—only, you know, without the special effects or A-list leading man.
No, I think it’s more due to the same process that 15 years ago would have had us believe that Gretchen Mol and Liv Tyler were going to be The Stars of Tomorrow. It is, in fact, the work of a cabal of publicists and mass media, intent on controlling who we consider “stars” in an insidious attempt to divert us from the fact that we do not actually crave the Coops, Alex Pettyfers, and Channing Tatums of the world.
Now that’s a premise for a movie.