American Ultra is not a comedy, but a stoner driven action movie with a couple of sheepish laughs that only lead to very trifling consequences. Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) is a character immediately identifiable: a long-haired pothead passing his days behind a counter and his nights nestled between the arms of a cute girlfriend – Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), his lifeblood. One evening at work, Mike has to defend himself from two deadly assassins, and strikingly so, by wedging a metal spoon into his opponent’s throat, which results in a wild onset of panic at his very own kick-ass revelation – the movie’s best moment (in the trailer, too). The rest of the film essentially tries to live up to this moment, as Mike continues to develop into his own style of a Jason Bourne exposé, mixed with melodramatic turns and whacked-out violence.
Topher Grace and Connie Britton feature in sturdy supporting roles as CIA operatives out to get each other (and kill/save Mike), but the plot dynamics get a little mucky here as dubious explanations try to mangle their way in. It doesn’t seem like director Nima Nourizadeh knows exactly what exchanges should happen with whom and in what tone. There are awkward moments, startling revelations, B-movie manipulations, stylistic motifs, and quite a few washout lines. Admittedly, this concocts some genre-bending stuff and a cinematic feast for certain occasions, but it isn’t a sustainable beverage. Walton Goggins and John Leguizamo also feature, but both roles are pigeonholed to absolute drivel.
Regardless, the pursuit of Mike is energetic and crowded with explosions, fireworks, and some impressive hand-to-hand combat, often including any tool at disposal (special mention for the superstore set piece). The action is also steadfast in its handling of Eisenberg and his ability to somehow not look like he just spawned straight out of a kung fu movie, even if there is a multiple stream of approaching attackers. Thankfully, Stewart is playing side-by-side with Eisenberg throughout this fiasco. In fact, the one truly commendable thing about the film is their notable chemistry (also featured in Adventureland, and soon to be seen in an untitled Woody Allen project). Their relationship here is surprisingly sweet, and it is substantial enough for a few smiles, despite the onslaught. Although, one does wish the honesty and potential scope in their performances could shine above the nonsensical atmosphere of it all.
American Ultra is released nationwide on 4th September 2015.
Watch the trailer for American Ultra here: