I went into American Ultra with almost no prior knowledge or expectations; an experiment that usually works in my favor and has exposed me to such great movies as Ink in the past. With American Ultra, nothing quite as special happened but I was treated to a general good time. Most of all, I appreciated the performances; one from a man we all already know is pretty great, and one from a singularly unexpected source (at least unexpected to most people). I’ll get to that in a little bit.
Directed by the man who brought us Project X and made an entire generation of party animals even more obnoxious, the film’s primary focus is two stoners in love – Mike, played by Jesse Eisenberg (whom I still don’t see as Lex Luthor), and his soulmate Phoebe, played by Kristen Stewart. They seem to lead the ordinary life of failed humans until Mike becomes targeted by the government, and learns that he is actually one of their highly-trained agents, none of which he can remember thanks to either the government or all the drugs. I feel like this is an idea that’s been done in films before, at least insofar as we follow a person who has a range of special abilities but can’t remember aquiring them, but strangely, I cannot pin-point any examples.
Mike is the remaining agent in a scientific mind control experiment overseen by CIA agent Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton), known as “Ultra”, and the people going after Mike are part of a similar experiment created by Lasseter’s rival Adrian Yates (Topher Grace). Yates’ program is called “Tough Guy”, and includes such faces as Walton Goggins and Monique Ganderton. There is also Bill Pullman as a scary observer and the boss of Yates, Raymond Krueger, and John Leguizamo appears as one of Mike’s drug dealing friends. He manages to be funny in spite of being nearly as cartoony here as in the Ice Age franchise.
The way Mike learns about his forgotten special skills is amusing. It all begins when he finds a couple of shady fellows attempting to steal the tires of his car, at which point he promptly kills them all using little besides a spoon. I knew that there was a Ginosaji movie coming out, but I surely didn’t think it would be this soon.
Eisenberg’s performance during it all is also a great deal of fun. We all imagine Eisenberg as a somewhat awkward and non-tough character, and the confusion he displays after performing feats of badassery is spot-on. Another performance I’d like to talk about, perhaps surprisingly, is that of good old Kristen “dense teenage girls who know nothing about character writing, acting or even vampire lore seriously look up to my Bella Swan character just because she gets to be with handsome men without actual personalities” Stewart. As you can probably tell from that last mouth full, I wasn’t exactly a fan of her when she was doing nothing but Twilight, or even Snow White and The Huntsman. However, I stand by that she can do well when given the right material, i.e. material that’s non-terrible enough for her to genuinely try to act in.
Kristen Stewart has been unfairly treated due to Twilight, both by its haters and all the deluded fangirls who still somehow think that anyone involved in that production was taking anything seriously, in how she’s constantly assumed to be a bad actress simply due to justifiably not giving a damn while filming her most well-known role. American Ultra is one of those little gems that remind us that she’s got potential when she’s given the right material. I knew it straight away when I watched the way she worked with body language alone during an early scene at an airport.
This is probably a film that I will include amongst the 2015 movies that I liked almost solely due to the fun factor, but it isn’t up there with Mad Max: Fury Road or Kingsman: The Secret Service, which had me excited and on the floor throughout, respectively. Ignoring the plot holes and brief tonal issues in American Ultra wasn’t as easy as it usually is with “fun movies”™, although I’d say it can still get its job done just fine. I don’t encourage anyone to think too hard during an action comedy about a stoner who is actually an arse-kicking super spy but barely understands it himself. Instead, just bask in all the violence and comedy like I’m sure you did with Kingsman, even if that one was a little stronger on the “comedy” part.
Down below is a trailer and I am so sorry about the music (okay, I kid, that might actually be the one Nicki Minaj song I kinda like).