American Ultra aims to mix violence, absurdity, humor, and romance. It achieves this goal…poorly. Somewhat surprising, since stars Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart had such great chemistry in Adventureland. Unfortunately, a pedantic script from Max Landis (Chronicle) and maudlin direction by Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) doesn’t recreate that magic. American Ultra had promise. A comedic take on the CIA’s infamous MK Ultra program could have been great. We’ll have to wait for a better film, because American Ultra falls woefully short.
The new movie American Ultra, starring Jesse Eisenberg, is an action packed comedy about a unlucky and lazy stoner named Mike (Eisenberg), whose seemingly small and monotonous life is turned upside down when he discovers that he was part of a government project that made him a highly lethal sleeper agent. In an instance, his secret life surfaces and he must fight alongside his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) against a covert government task force sent to eliminate him in order to survive.
To set the scene, this movie starts off with introducing both Mike and Phoebe, showing them to both be stoners who are madly in love and find a lot of enjoyment in sitting around and getting high. Both seem to live normal, lackluster lives at face value but behind the scenes a secret government task force is being assembled to eliminate Mike because he is secretly a government sleeper agent created from an experiment that was shut down many years ago. It isn’t until Mike’s former handler Lasseter (Connie Britton) finds this out that she goes over the head of the CIA and activated Mike in order to save his life. Together, Mike, Lasseter, and Phoebe combine all their efforts in order to fight for all of their survival and turn this government operation on its backside.
The overall concept of the programmed assassin works. We can suspend disbelief and buy into the idea that a benign pothead is a secret killing machine. There’s a whole lot of revelations throughout the story, which I won’t discuss, but a key point is never explained. Why is Phoebe so in love with Mike? He’s essentially her puppy, and she’s almost his mother. The script wants the audience to believe that something in the past made these two fall in love. That needed to be shown, or at least glossed over. It’s not, and it makes their relationship seem totally implausible.
A lot of the comedy seemed to draw from the fact that Mike is freaked out by his own abilities so the pressure was on Jesse to land these jokes and he did this very well. Granted, these jokes were never the laugh out loud sort of jokes but a chuckle is better than nothing. As far as the action goes, there was a fair amount of fighting scenes. Jesse’s character Mike does a lot of high impact stunts and fighting moves that are impressive but to see Jesse doing these moves on screen is also a tad funny to watch.
But then you wouldn’t have a movie. American Ultra isn’t terrible. The supporting characters are the saving grace. John Leguizamo, Tony Hale, and Walton Goggins are pretty funny. They add most of the comic relief to the story. That works well, but not enough to shore up the film. Eisenberg and Stewart are fairly straightforward in their delivery. They go through the motions and not much else. Jesse Eisenberg gets beaten to a bloody pulp as the film progresses. He looks the part, so a deserving nod goes to the make-up artists.
If you’re looking for a laugh out loud movie than this isn’t the movie for you. It’s unique in the sense that a stoner being a sleeper agent can make you wonder where the story and character development will go. The plot unveils like rolling toilet paper down a stairway. A few hitches or surprises would have gone a long way. Lower your expectations because American Ultra isn’t nearly that exciting.