Review: American Ultra
PLOT: A meek stoner (Jesse Eisenberg) discovers that hes 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 its 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. Its strange to see Eisenbergs shaggy-dog sensitive stoner shove a spoon in a guys throat or use a free weight to destroy another opponents face (all vividly depicted) but theres 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. Whats 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 wouldnt have come-off with two less-talented actors in the lead.
This is actually something of a stretch for Eisenberg. While hes certainly played his share of slackers, his high-intelligence has always shined through. Here hes actually playing a guy thats supposed to be dumb, and Eisenberg gives the character a sense of vacantness that seems appropriate. Hes also likable in the part, making it somewhat easier to swallow that Stewart as his more intelligent girlfriend would stick with him. Eisenbergs 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. Ive always thought Stewart was underrated (TWILIGHT being the major exception) and its nice to see her having a little fun in a somewhat less serious part than usual (even if comedy doesnt really seem to be her forte).
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 Eisenbergs 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 doesnt reinvent the wheel (and sure as heck doesnt compare to something like TRUE ROMANCE) but its a solid ninety-minute romp and good fun as long as you let yourself go along with it.
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