Thursday, September 10, 2015

Movie Review: "American Ultra" (2015)

© Lionsgate

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about American Ultra is that while it might be about a stoner... it's not a stoner movie. This isn't Pineapple Express. It's not about a stoner thrown into the middle of dangerous political war games that have literally nothing to do with him—it's about a stoner thrown into the middle of dangerous political war games that have everything to do with him. Notice the distinction? Of course, that shouldn't downplay the bevy of pot and drug jokes, of which there are plenty. Sadly though, it doesn't rise above the cliché to become anything special.

Jesse Eisenberg plays Mike Howell, a pothead working at a convenience store who has an inexplicable fear of leaving his small town. His girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), is more than a little supportive, and she slips nicely into their laid-back existence. That is until a rogue CIA agent (Connie Britton) learns of the agency's plan to terminate her pet project: a sleeper agent that just happens to be Mike. To save his life, she hurries to activate his killer protocol, leaving him with sweet ninja fighting moves and no idea how he got them. When CIA agent Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) descends upon the town with an army of assassins, Mike must figure out a way to survive and keep the love of his life safe.

Kristen Stewart is top-notch when she's delivering real, non-stammering dialogue. She also had great chemistry with Eisenberg, who tends to inherently reject chemistry with anyone. There are lovely, caring moments between them, and at one point, I was even touched by their relationship. A wrench gets thrown into the works, mucking it all up, but their relationship is what gives the movie any foundation. The CIA faction of the bunch is full of recognizable faces, most of them stellar actors. There was a dude wearing what looked like a Bill Pullman mask, and then you have Topher Grace acting all weasel-y, popping up with that expert comedic timing, even when moments didn't call for it.

The primary issue with American Ultra is that it's completely underdeveloped. There were lots of opportunities to slip in exposition, or provide motivations for Topher Grace's villainy, but they weren't there. Characters were underdeveloped, and so was the action at certain points (i.e. the explosions felt like a distraction every single time, when the close-up moments that were few and far between were much more effective). Missed opportunities everywhere. That doesn't mean it wasn't funny, but nothing met its full potential.

The comedy has a handful of great moments (Eisenberg's "I'm still in handcuff" line had me unexpectedly rolling), and a lot of it stemmed from nonchalant deliveries, rather than the lines themselves. Stewart saying "Mike Mike Mike!" a lot also made me laugh, even if only because it reminded me of that Hump Day commercial. Watching Eisenberg squirm when he surprises himself with his first kill also brought an excess of delight. Oh, and there was a lot more blood than I expected. I know that seems silly, considering the trailer, but I was still pleasantly surprised by its commitment to the violent aspect.

If anything, this is a harmless, late-night renter. Order a pizza, crack open some beer (or smoke some pot), and pop on the VUDU. You'd have a relaxing evening with probably no regrets.

Rating: ★★½ / 5 stars

1 comment:

  1. I can't wait to see it... on Netflix. I love me some Kristen Stewart! Looks delightful.


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