Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman,
A mixed genre of stoner film and action flick, American Ultra doesn’t succeed at either. From the director of Project X, Nima Nourizadeh can’t seem to find the correct tone or balance between the irony and the comedy. Oscar nominated Eisenberg (The Social Network) as usual dissolves into the role, discussing in interviews how he spent time with drug users to portray the part. This is Eisenberg’s second film doing on screen drugs with Kristen Stewart, the duo co-starred previously in 2009’s Adventureland. Stewart (Twilight) is playing another highly recognizable version of herself, while Grace (Spider-Man 3) is stereotyped as the hot head villain.
Mike Howell (Eisenberg) and girlfriend Phoebe (Stewart), spend most of their day high, inside their house in rural West Virginia. There isn’t much to their lives beyond Mike’s job at a local Cash & Carry gas station and his comic book sketches. He has been working up the nerve to purpose to Phoebe, the one constant in his life, not that he can remember anything before their relationship began. Panic attacks, prevent Mike from flying to Hawaii for a getaway and prompting Langley into action. Underneath Mike is actually a decommissioned government agent, created in a project by Victoria Lasseter (Britton), he just doesn’t know it. Assuming control of the project, Yates (Grace) has a mission to terminate Mike at any cost.
The stupidity never translates into laughs.
If you take the concept behind The Truman Show, a man unaware of the control around him and mix that with a violent stoner film similar to Pineapple Express, you have an idea of the combination American Ultra was likely aiming for. The only thing funny about American Ultra is the body language from Eisenberg after he reveals to Phoebe he killed a couple of goons in the parking lot. The rest of the film is obvious and predictable. Grace’s character is so evil and manipulative that we know he will meet a certain end, while Britton is trying so hard to do the right thing, etc. Everything about the situation is supposed to be stupid, and it is, but that stupidity never translates into laughs.
The only thing that keeps American Ultra from being a total waste of time is the relationship connection between Mike and Phoebe. Their love and endurance is tested as secrets are revealed and they fight for survival. One of the running jokes has Mike searching for the right moment to purpose to his fiery haired girlfriend. We totally believe that Stewart’s character would be interested in someone like Mike, and yet again the babe with the loser cliché is reaffirmed. Despite the explosions and fight scenes in a grocery store, American Ultra is never worth whatever the admission price is, nor is it a film that will be remembered even a month after release.