Film Review – American Ultra
The pairing of Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg again in American Ultra will no doubt remind one of the Greg Mottola’s Adventureland. While Adventureland is a coming-of-age dramedy, it should not be confused in any way with American Ultra. First, it is not an indie film. It has the full backing of Lionsgate and you can tell. Second, this is not a dramedy. It is an action comedy. Third, it is violent and bloody.
American Ultra follows the mundane turned crazy life of stoner Mike Howell (Eisenberg) and his equally stoned girlfriend Phoebe Larson (Stewart). They live in a small town in West Virginia, and Mike’s panic attacks make it pretty hard to leave their current circumstances. All that changes when CIA agent Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) activates her special “Ultra” project, Mike Howell. Lasseter simply saying a few phrases kicks in Mike’s specially trained brain and ability to kill people very effectively. The only problem is that Mike has no idea what is happening to him and neither does his Phoebe. The villain in this film is CIA agent Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) who wishes to kill Mike and uses his own specially trained operatives to do the job, the most prominent being “The Laugher” (Walton Goggins). The whole film is basically Mike trying to understand what is happening to him and getting out of the predicament at hand.
I fell hook, line, and sinker for the trailers and all the promos for American Ultra. I will pretty much see anything that Kristen Stewart is in, and given the re-pairing of her with Eisenberg, this was a no brainer for me. The introduction to the film is brilliant. It is the end of the film, but with a very fast flashback of the entire film. It then resets itself at the beginning of the end for life as Mike knows it. I heartedly enjoyed at least the first quarter of the film. It only began to drag, become outlandish, lose its humor after that. The film is not unfunny. It has its moments, but other jokes or awkward moments fell flat.
If you think that this is purely a stoner comedy and you need your action fix, let me assure you that American Ultra surpasses the violence and bloody bodies quota. Although the violence is hinted at in the trailers, it is much more than I was expecting, and I am fine with it. My mother on the other hand had her eyes closed for much of the last act. The violence did reach a point to where it became too much, and that is reached when the film would rather see a few more bodies than move the story along.
Something should be said about the chemistry between Stewart and Eisenberg. It works, and probably their previous work together helps build that relationship and conveys it onscreen. Stewart can convincingly play deadpan and sarcastic comedy as well as pull off an action role (see Catch That Kid). Like Stewart, Eisenberg is an awkward guy, and he was able to pull off the whiny stoner with secret killing abilities quite well. Topher Grace plays the annoying villain really well, but Connie Britton’s Lasseter could have been played by anyone. Both Tony Hale (CIA agent Petey Douglas) and Walton Goggins are underused in the film, both deserving of more screen time. John Leguizamo pulls off another ridiculous character as Rose, Mike’s drug dealer.
I am not sure what or who is to blame here for American Ultra not hitting the mark. Is it the actors, the direction by Nima Nourizadeh (Project X), or the script by Max Landis (Chronicle)? I have no doubt some people will really like this film. However, the comedy was too little and the action too much at different points in the story. There are a couple of twists that keep it interesting, but for the most part, American Ultra is not the film I expected it to be.