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Review: American Ultra

American Ultra
08.20.2015
6 10
 

PLOT: A meek stoner (Jesse Eisenberg) discovers that he’s actually a highly-trained former C.I.A assassin. With his former bosses now out to eliminate him, he must try to elude a crew of assassins while also keeping him similarly stoned girlfriend (Kristen Stewart) in one piece.

REVIEW: AMERICAN ULTRA is basically HALF BAKED meets THE BOURNE IDENTITY. Now, to some that comparison is enough to make you zone out right away. If indeed that is the case then, yeah, you should skip AMERICAN ULTRA as this is obviously not for you. However, if to you that sounds like a pretty good time then AMERICAN ULTRA just might prove to be a decent stoner snack, even if it’s not quite as much fun as it feels like it should be.

 

Coming from screenwriter Max Landis (CHRONICLE) and director Nima Nourizadeh (PROJECT X) AMERICAN ULTRA is an interesting experiment that mixes dopey Cheech & Chong-style comedy with heavy doses of ultra-violence that audibly took the preview audience I saw this with by surprise. It’s strange to see Eisenberg’s shaggy-dog sensitive stoner shove a spoon in a guy’s throat or use a free weight to destroy another opponent’s face (all vividly depicted) but there’s something about the whacked-out heightened vibe here that kind-of works.

For one thing, the movie is cast just right. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart both have a very peculiar kind of presence. This often gets mistaken for disinterest – a possibility in some of their bigger films – but being a couple of non-conformists (as far as Hollywood goes) they suit their slacker-stoner parts. What’s especially helpful is that – having co-starred in ADVENTURELAND – the two already have good chemistry which gives the film a certain heartfelt vibe that certainly wouldn’t have come-off with two less-talented actors in the lead.

 

This is actually something of a stretch for Eisenberg. While he’s certainly played his share of slackers, his high-intelligence has always shined through. Here he’s actually playing a guy that’s supposed to be dumb, and Eisenberg gives the character a sense of vacantness that seems appropriate. He’s also likable in the part, making it somewhat easier to swallow that Stewart – as his more intelligent girlfriend – would stick with him. Eisenberg’s also effective in the action scenes, where he snaps into Bourne-mode, with the best part being his comically horrified reactions as soon as he snaps back to normal-stoner mode.

Stewart is similarly effective as his sweet-natured (but just as stoned) girlfriend, who proves to be much more resourceful than him once the body count starts piling up. I’ve always thought Stewart was underrated (TWILIGHT being the major exception) and it’s nice to see her having a little fun in a somewhat less serious part than usual (even if comedy doesn’t really seem to be her forte).

 
Meanwhile, the supporting cast is strong in name value but a bit of a mixed bag. Topher Grace once again plays the scummy bad guy, but his propensity for these parts is getting a little tiresome as he’s really coming off as one note. Connie Britton, of Friday Night Lights, fares better as Eisenberg’s conflicted handler, while John Leguizamo steals a few scenes as Eisenberg’s addled but friendly drug dealer. JoBlo.com favorite also Bill Pullman shows up in a nifty extended cameo. Walton Goggins is probably the most effective of everyone, as an out-of-control assassin named Laugher, who has a solid moment of self-awareness with Eisenberg, even if it seems lifted wholesale from THE BOURNE IDENTIY.

One thing that makes AMERICAN ULTRA work better than it would have otherwise is the energetic direction by Nourizadeh. There are some really interesting shots, including a strong bit where about half-a-dozen kills are performed by Eisenberg’s character in a single-take, while the camera bounds around in a style reminiscent of his own found-footage PROJECT X. The film also maintains a solid momentum throughout, aided no doubt by Landis’ screenplay, which never gets too bogged down in exposition.

While the mix of goofy drug humor and ultra-violence will obviously put off a good chunk of the audience, AMERICAN ULTRA is nonetheless a well-executed romp and well worth seeing for both action fans and those who just want a few dumb laughs. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel (and sure as heck doesn’t compare to something like TRUE ROMANCE) but it’s a solid ninety-minute romp and good fun as long as you let yourself go along with it.

Source: JoBlo.com

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