American Ultra – 3 out of 5
When I was first exposed to Jesse Eisenberg—probably playing a socially awkward nerd, imagine that—I never thought that one day I would see him in an action role. Of course, I never would have believed you if you told me then that he would one day be Lex Luthor either. Well, that’s essentially what Eisenberg is doing with American Ultra. Being an action star, not doing Lex Luthor again--or before, since this came out before Batman v Superman.
|I think they used the same wig for Lex.|
|Also, what if Jason Bourne fought with fireworks?|
What if Jason Bourne was a man in his early 30s with a preference for getting stoned? Well, that’s basically what this film is postulating. Mike Howell (Eisenberg) seems like a normal dude in a nondescript town where he works a dead-end job at a convenience store and spends the rest of his time getting stoned with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart). However, after a mysterious visit from a woman named Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton), he suddenly finds himself greeted by people who want to see him dead and it seems it awakens in him killer training that he never realized he had. Now he and his girlfriend are on the run and trying to figure out just what the hell is happening.
|Man, this remake of Tommy Boy is weird.|
I have to say after finally getting a chance to sit down and watch this one that the trailers did not do a very good job at marketing it. The premise of having a secret agent in the form of a slacker stoner and have him get awoken without him really understanding what he can do is a fun twist on the spy thriller that we’ve seen before but the actually execution of American Ultra left me wanting a little more.
|But there was definitely some killer moments!|
One of the weakest parts of the film is the fact that the tone is all over the place. The trailer sells it as a wacky dark comedy but the film can’t quite nail down any one tone. At times it is a stoner comedy, sometimes it’s a romcom or just a romantic drama and then it brings in some bloody and hardcore action and becomes an action film. Shifting tones can work and a lot of films have done it but American Ultra can't quite nail it down and it spends its entire running length feeling like it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. It’s definitely distracting but not entirely terrible.
|Look, nothing is ever too bad when Leguizamo is in it...even Super Mario Bros.|
|"Walk and talk with me...Sorkin style."|
The performances in the film can vary quite a bit. Kristen Stewart and Connie Britton are decent but not entirely memorable and Jesse Eisenberg can be fun but, at his core, he’s still playing the same guy that we’ve seen him play way too many times before. On the great end of the spectrum with the cast is a really amusing and fun performance from John Leguizamo; who plays a friend of Mike’s, there’s Topher Grace as a CIA operative who is a complete dick but one of those jerk characters that are fun to watch and, finally, you have Walton Goggins as an operative similar to Mike that is not only a great antagonist and terrifically performed but also has a very interesting arc that is revealed quite well. Additionally, Bill Pullman and Tony Hale have small roles in the film and each man does a great job but they are incredibly small roles and neither man is really given the time to really flex their muscles.
|"Something, something our independence day."|
Finally, one thing I did enjoy about this film is how they reveal the story. Things like how Mike came to be, the tortured past of the operative that Walton Goggins plays and a mystery surrounding the character of Phoebe is revealed in a way that allows for the audience to have their “Ah-ha!” moment and then expanded upon for the sake of clarity. It has that balance of telling and showing but never holding the hand of the viewer.
|Walton Goggins is a damn versatile actor.|
American Ultra has a decent idea that has some potential to it but it just can’t quite deliver on it. With its sloppy and hodge-podge tones, the film can be amusing but never overtly funny, it’s got some cool action moments but never epically badass or memorable with those times and it has some drama to it but not enough where it really could engage me on a truly invested level. The film isn’t bad and isn’t completely harmed by its problems but they do make it an overall average feature.