Cross Jason Bourne with a Kevin Smith film, add in the quirkiest of romantic comedy elements and you’ve got American Ultra, an R-rated action comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. American Ultra comes from two found footage horror movie filmmakers – director Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) and writer Max Landis (Chronicle) – but fortunately both have put that overused format aside for this tightly choreographed actionfest that finds a stoner suddenly discovering he’s an undercover agent…or something of the sort. He’s got mad skills and no idea where they came from. The actual how, whats and whys as to the development of those skills is touched on but inconsequential as what works best about American Ultra is the solid love story at the film’s heart.
Eisenberg stars as Mike Howell, an habitually stoned convenience store worker who’s a frequent visitor to the local jail. And by visitor I mean he’s locked up so often he might as well have his mail forwarded there. Fortunately, his girlfriend Phoebe (Stewart) is a bail bondswoman who never tires of fetching him from behind bars. She’s too good for him and he knows it. He also knows there’s an engagement ring in his pocket just waiting for the right moment to make an appearance. Could that right appearance be accompanied by a box full of illegal fireworks? Yes, if Mike can actually pull off the proposal.
Unfortunately, his grand romantic gesture is put on hold when a bizarre woman enters the Cash-N-Carry and repeats a weird, nonsensical phrase to the very high Mike. The woman uttering a seemingly random string of words is actually CIA Agent Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) who’s attempting to save Mike’s life by activating assassin skills that have been suppressed by the agency. Mike thinks he might have stumbled across some bad weed, but it turns out Agent Lasseter’s mantra worked and when two men show up to kill him, he takes them out without breaking a sweat – dispatching one of them with the spoon he’d been calmly using to feast on some ramen.
Completely freaked out, he makes Phoebe come to the Cash-N-Carry to see for herself that he really did kill two people. After verifying that it wasn’t a drug-induced hallucination, Mike and Phoebe are still on the scene when the police arrive and take the pair into custody. And that’s when the proverbial sh*t hits the fan. Assassins appear all over the small town which has, at this point, been thrust into quarantine by the authorities due to an outbreak of typhoid. Mike and Phoebe are now front and center in a battle against killers who are better armed and who are acting under the orders of a power-crazed CIA boss (played by Topher Grace) who’s Agent Lasseter’s superior.
Eisenberg isn’t your typical action hero (although he’s surprisingly agile and athletic) and Stewart’s not the first actress you’d picture when casting a romantic lead in an action comedy/thriller, but strangely enough these two work as a stoner/sleeper agent and a woman who’s more on the ball than it initially seems. As small town working class potheads, Eisenberg and Stewart are not only believable but actually a pair that you really root for not just to come out of this red hot mess alive but still in love. Eisenberg’s Mike would rip doors off their hinges with his bare hands to save Phoebe, and Phoebe exudes patience as she tries to clear Mike’s foggy brain so he can focus on the task at hand of living through the night.
You may ask where are all of the good people of this particular town when it’s suddenly overrun by military types. You may also stumble out of the theater after the film’s brisk 95 minute running time wondering what’s up with the way the CIA angle wraps up. But those questions and others that pop up throughout the film don’t really need to be answered as American Ultra only takes itself semi-seriously and then only during the heavy duty action scenes. Keep your questions for films that actually ask you to analyze and engage in the setups. American Ultra isn’t one of those. It’s two kids in love, struggling to get by, and then finding themselves thrust into overwhelming circumstances that test their relationship. Can love survive in a world turned completely upside down? Even that question is a little too deep for American Ultra. But if you’ve got the munchies for a quirky, goofball comedy that’s also sweet, romantic, and has an awful lot of bloodshed, American Ultra will satisfy your cravings. Just don’t expect to understand or even care about the setup.
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, drug use and some sexual content
Release Date: August 21, 2015
Follow Us On: