Genres get run into the ground everyday in the worlds of film…there just aren’t a ton of new ideas out there, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t have some fun by mining some familiar tropes. American Ultra doesn’t do a damn thing to reinvent the wheel but in spite of some missteps it manages to have some fun with itself and lets a solid piece of entertainment unfold at our door steps.
Mike (Jesse Eisenberg), is a small-town stoner living a seemingly hapless and happy life with his girlfriend, Phoebe (Kirsten Stewart), who he wants to propose to, if he can only overcome his anxiety but his life is suddenly turned upside down. Little does Mike know that he is actually a highly trained, lethal sleeper agent…and he’s just been activated. Before he can even blink, his secret past comes back to haunt him and Mike is thrust into the middle of a deadly government operation and has to balance his inner bad ass with his inner stoner, in order to save the day and finally get out of town in one piece.
Not high art by any stretch and while showing some obvious flaws, American Ultra is a fun little stoner comedy that wants to channel the JJ Abrams TV show Alias, while maintaining some Half-Baked, Harold & Kumar type hijinks…and for the most part it actually works.
In his sophomore effort, director Nima Nourizadeh works well enough in the small town confinements that his story locks himself into. It never drags or feels out of place at any moment as he has more than enough skill to get the story from point A, to point B, to point C and so on, with little to no fuss. It looks very solid and while the editing was a little haphazard and punchy at times it plays fine. It’s not the kind of movie that we are ever supposed to take seriously for any given moment, it only asks us to kick back, light one up and enjoy the ride, which thanks to a solid ensemble and two stellar leads this movie manages to pull off in spades.
Together again after Adventureland in 2009, Jesse Eisenberg and Kirsten Stewart have an underrated comedic chemistry together that carries the film through its weaker moments. Even when the script from writer Max Landis tends to fall flat, it is the interplay between these two characters that are madly in love with each other that gets us through the clunky moments. They are believable flaked out on the couch, and running from a CIA hit squad, there is never a moment when we believe them. On the flipside of that, Topher Grace as the ‘bad guy’ or antagonist was so whiny and pointless that his energy almost killed the entire film. He was miscast and the material simply didn’t back him up to play a compelling enough of a government corporate weasel. Connie Britton, Bill Pullman, John Leguizamo and Tony Hale were all fine in support while someone needs to write a spinoff for government agent/ assassin Laugher (Walton Goggins) right now. Seeing him truly cut loose was just a fun experience and we need to see more projects with him getting let off the chain as he made for a fun villain who almost stole the movie away from Eisenberg & Stewart.
Ultimately, there isn’t a lot in American Ultra that can urgently compel you to get down to your local multiplex, but it is a fun diversion of an action comedy that will find some legs on the smaller screen and more then worth a watch.