With the prospect of the final entry in the 'Harry Potter' franchise taking everyone away from their living rooms this week, the home entertainment studios are finishing out the month with less than stellar product. (Or is it that the first part of this year -- from which the home video debuts have been culled -- was less than stellar in the movie theaters? Perhaps a little of both?) Still, rising to the top this week is 'Limitless,' which actually turns out to be a gripping, involving thriller that allows Bradley Cooper to show his acting chops. But juxtapose that with 'Take Me Home Tonight,' a rote way-back-machine comedy that takes place in the late 1980s with aimless youth facing off against Wall Street yuppies seeking the one thing everyone looks for, no matter the decade -- sex (actually, love).
What It's About: What would you do if you were given the opportunity to tap into 100 percent of your brain just by swallowing a pill (Alice, beware)? That's the option given to aspiring author Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), who's a loser suffering from chronic life and writer's block. When he gobbles down NZT, a revolutionary new pharmaceutical that allows him to tap his full potential, every synapse crackles and he can recall everything he has ever read, seen or heard, learn any language in a day, comprehend complex equations and beguile anyone he meets -- as long as he keeps taking the untested drug. Soon Eddie takes Wall Street by storm -- but not without a price. NZT is a killer drug in more ways than one: some previous users have died, which doesn't bother Eddie as much as the unknown corporate goons, Russian gangsters and police on his tail. But what's worse: His supply is dwindling.
It's Kinda Like: 'Charly' and 'Phenomenon' meet Phillip K. Dick via 'Pi'
What We Say: When we first saw the trailers for 'Limitless,' we were incredibly skeptical about the possibilities for the film to be engaging as a sci-fi yarn. But we were pleasantly surprised. Though the logic and reasoning behind the drug and Eddie Morra's access to it are dubious, it's quite easy to suspend disbelief and go with the flow. Though Morra is a moral failure -- he basically doesn't want to share the drug with anyone else, or use it for the better good -- he just wants to make money and have a good time -- you end of rooting for him despite yourself. The film has a creative plot line with plenty of twists and turns -- and violence, as one would suspect with pills, Wall Street and big money involved -- and it keeps you guessing until the end. And forget the Bradley Cooper of 'The Hangover' -- the actor here makes a bid for future top billing. A fun time for all.
• Extras: A couple of behind-the-scenes featurettes and an unsatisfying alternate ending.
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'Take Me Home Tonight'
What It's About: It's the go-go '80s and recent MIT grad Matt Franklin (Topher Grace) should be working for a Fortune 500 company and starting his upward climb to full-fledged yuppie-hood. Instead, the directionless 23-year-old takes a part-time job at a video store at the Sherman Oaks Galleria. But Matt's silent protest against maturity comes to a screeching halt once his unrequited high school crush, Tori Frederking, walks into the store. When she invites him to an epic, end-of-summer party hosted by upward-mobile yuppies, Matt thinks he finally might have a chance with the girl of his dreams. With his cynical twin sister Wendy and best friend Barry, Matt embarks on a once-in-a-lifetime evening that will change the course of their lives.
It's Kinda Like: 'She's Out of My League' meets 'Dazed and Confused' 10 years later
What We Say: Set in 1988, 'Take Me Home Tonight' is a pot luck rom-com with a gumbo of disco, punk and rock attitudes, big hair, some spandex, a little cocaine and a lot of me-me-me. At best it's silly and sweet, at worst it's oh-so-predictable and boring. There's not enough time to care for these characters before the film runs full-steam ahead -- Topher Grace, the ostensible star of the film, can't really hold the story line together and his best friend, the Chris Farley/John Candy imitator Dan Fogler, doesn't elicit the laughs/sympathy a slapstick sidekick should engender. The bright light in the film is Anna Faris as Grace's twin sister who has a bigger and more important identity crisis to solve: Should she go to Cambridge and become a writer or marry the yuppie-swine rich boy from high school. The rest of the movie is party central without any party fun.
• Extras: Deleted scenes, a cast get-together, a music boombox jukebox, a music video.
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July 19 Blu-ray Debuts:
- 'Beauty and the Beast' (1946) Highlight of the week is The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray release of 'Beauty and the Beast,' the sublime adaptation by Jean Cocteau of Mme. Leprince de Beaumont's fairy-tale masterpiece -- in which the true love of a beautiful girl melts the heart of a feral but gentle beast. It's a landmark feat of motion picture fantasy, with unforgettably romantic performances by Jean Marais and Josette Day. The film is presented in a high-definition digital transfer from restored film elements, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack.
- 'Amelie' (2001)
- 'The Boy in the Striped Pajamas' (2008)
- 'Boyz N the Hood' (1991)
- 'Bridget Jones's Diary' (2001)
- 'Chocolat' (2000)
- 'The Music Room' (1958)
Other New July 19 DVD Releases:
- 'Captain America': Frozen in the ice for decades, Captain America is freed to battle arch-criminal the Red Skull, who wants to assassinate the president of the United States in this 1990 version of the comic book hero. Stars Matt Salinger, Scott Paulin, Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty, Darren McGavin, Michael Nouri, Melinda Dillon.
- 'House of the Rising Sun': (2011) An ex-cop -- now working security at a New Orleans strip club -- gets implicated in the robbery of the club and the murder of the owner's son, and most strike out on his own to clear his name, staying one step ahead of the police and the mob. Stars Dave Bautista, Amy Smart, Dominic Purcell, Danny Trejo, Craig Fairbrass, Dave Bautista, Amy Smart, Dominic Purcell, Danny Trejo, Craig Fairbrass.
- 'My Own Love Song': (2010) Still recovering from unimaginable tragedy, wheelchair-bound singer Jane (Renee Zellweger) and firefighter Joey (Forest Whitaker) embark on an unforgettable road trip to New Orleans to find the son she gave up for adoption. Original soundtrack by Bob Dylan.
- 'Peep World': (2010) At their father's 70th birthday, a dysfunctional family comes to term with a thinly-veiled expose of a novel written by the youngest son. Black comedy stars Michael C. Hall, Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson, Ben Schwartz, Judy Greer, Kate Mara, Taraji P. Henson, Ron Rifkin, Lesley Ann Warren.
- 'Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune': (2010) Moving documentary looks at the life and career of one of the original -- and most creative -- of the 1960s folk singers, whose songs eloquently protested the War in Vietnam and other social inequities in that turbulent era. Ochs sought the bright lights of fame and social justice in equal measure -- a contradiction that eventually tore him apart.
- 'Potiche': (2010 -- France) Set in 1977 in a provincial French town, 'Potiche' is a witty and charming comedy starring Catherine Deneuve as a housebound "trophy housewife" (or "potiche") who steps in to manage the umbrella factory run by her tyrannical husband after the workers go on strike and he gets ill. Directed by France's gift to international comedy, Francois Ozon, and co-starring Gerard Depardieu.
- 'Zonad': (2009) An escapee from an alcohol rehab clinic passes himself off as an alien from outer space, becoming an instant local celebrity and getting all the beer he wants, a nice place to live, and the endless attentions of the women of the small Irish town of Ballymoran.
Check out more July 19 DVD releases at OnVideo.