American Ultra: A Movie Review
American Ultra opens with a police interrogator asking our sad sack protagonist Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) “How did all this happen?”, which triggers a flashback montage of spoilers: fireworks, a frying pan, drawings of a monkey, an exploding car, a cup of instant noodles splattered with blood. Mike has clearly not been playing hacky sack for the last 48hrs.
Mike, Is a neurotic convenience store clerk that enjoys smoking weed and chilling with his girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart). As mike begins to tell his story, we learn that Mikes love for Phoebe is perhaps the most important thing in his life. So much so he can’t even recollect his life prior to her (or so we are led to believe) and attempts to take her to Hawaii to proposed but his plans are derailed due to debilitating panic attacks whenever he attempts to leave the small town of Liman, West Virginia.
Well unbeknownst to mike he is a sleeper agent marked for death and is caught up in the power struggle between smarmy, up-and-coming desk jockey,CIA middle management – Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) and his former handler Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) who won’t let her project be terminated and “reactivated” him. As a team of assassins is unloosed on the city. Mike is put into several life or death situations he becomes a certified super agent he was trained to be.
Up In Smoke
American Ultra unfortunately suffered from Lionsgate marketing of this movie. In an attempt to “spark” interest with the comic-con crowd and the cannabis culture, they billed this film as a stoner-comedy. American Ultra may be part that but is more Bourne Identity.
American Ultra’s biggest failing is that it tries to break the subgenre’s rules by eschewing the “male best buds” for sleepy-eyed Kristen Stewart, parading their snuggling domestic bliss in contrast to say Pineapple Express, Dude Where’s My Car or Up In Smoke’s formulaic friendship based on weed. Perhaps marijuana humor is best confined to harmless high jinks, cartoonish authority figures, and trippy improbabilities. I give writer Max Landis (son of John Landis) and Director Nima Nourizadeh credit for trying something new.
What we are left with is a hybrid of sorts, Well worn concepts, a violent flick interlaced with comedy and romance, Unfortunately, True Romance and Natural Born Killers did the this infinitely better.
Jesse Eisenberg is surprisingly believable as an action hero, sacrificing none of his “dorkness” while decimating his foes. Meanwhile, his chemistry with Kristen Stewart is believable and heartfelt. Trust me I wanted to hate Kristen Stewart in this movie, I understand that Twighlight forced her into the limelight and has marginalized the our perception of her acting ability but, man, those movies pissed me off. Stewart and Eisenberg recapture what they had going for them in Adventureland and are on point. In fact, their chemistry is the glue that binds this film, it’s simply amazing. So much so American Ultra falters in the last half as Stewart is captured and separated from Eisenberg.
The supporting cast shines as well, Topher Grace could be perhaps the unsung hero, modeled after a Hollywood agent is perfectly casted here. Connie Britton’s character has teeth. Walton Goggins (perhaps the best part of the Shield) adds a touch of craziness as a CIA-scrambled psychotic assassin. John Leguizamo is a standout as the wild and wacky drug dealer, so good I almost dusted off my DVD of The Pest.
Pack It Up!
At its heart, American Ultra is a love story, an incredibly violent love story, filled with paranoia about nefarious, shadowy, murderous, spying government with a dash of libertarianism sprinkled throughout. American Ultra tries to straddle the low brow of pot humor while being high concept and ultimately fails, but is mitigated by the great casting. American Ultra is one of those movies that is perfect for VOD with bong in hand.