Saturday, November 28, 2015

'American Ultra' Is as Polarizing as Its Writer; as Stoned as Its Protagonist

American Ultra is an action comedy about a shiftless small-town stoner named Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) who has been intending to propose to his girlfriend Phoebe Larson (Kristen Stewart), but before he can do so, he finds himself being targeted by a CIA black operation that is determined to assassinate him.  And much to his bewilderment, he discovers that he has the instinct and skills to fight off and kill the operatives that are being sent after him.  Unbeknownst to him, he was once part of a covert CIA program called “Ultra”, which had turned him into a latent killing machine.  With his newfound abilities, he must overcome his confusion and panic to keep himself and his girlfriend from getting killed.

This movie is written by Max Landis (the writer of 2012’s Chronicle).  And if you know the guy (watch Youtube videos of him), you’ll find him a loud and obnoxious jerk.  However, if you get used to his seemingly unpleasant personality, you might discover (like I did) that there are charisma, eloquence, thoughtfulness, and sense of humor in him (his Youtube video, “Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling”, is brilliant).  American Ultra has traces of Landis’ personality, and, thus, it’s as polarizing as him.  There are funny and smart elements in this movie, but there are also some aspects which some will find pretentious and insufferable.

The performances are good.  Notably, Stewart’s.  She indeed has gone a long way from the awful, deadpan acting she did in Twilight.  Considering the “stoner” premise, I was half-expecting Stewart to give a stoned performance.  But she actually did well here.

I personally enjoyed American Ultra.  However, there’s this feeling that this movie could have achieved much more with its interesting premise, but, like its stoned protagonist, lacked the creativity and initiative to do so.  It has laughs, but not hilarity.  The action scenes are cleverly-executed, but not notably exciting.  It has some heart, but not sufficient depth.  It’s entertaining, but average.

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