My Rating: 6.5 out of 10
American Ultra is definitely one of the strangest movies I’ve seen in a while, but the very things that made it so bizarre were what made the film appealing in the first place. In a comedy that can only be described as a mash up of the superhero, spy, and stoner genres, Mike Howell (played by Jesse Eisenberg) goes from being an average pothead getting ready to propose to his girlfriend, Phoebe (played by Kristen Stewart), when he is attacked one night at his job by two men and realizes that he has some kind of superhuman abilities. For the remainder of the film, Mike tries to find out the secret of who or what he is while avoiding the numerous government agents sent to assassinate him.
When I first saw the commercials for American Ultra, I was intrigued because I honestly couldn’t believe that the premise was really what it was. The trailer was reminiscent of one of those fake previews that are so over the top, you know there’s no way a full length movie could ever be made using their concepts. However, American Ultra was real and actually managed to pull off an entire 96 minutes that was both suspenseful and humorous. One of the most interesting things about the film was the way that every aspect of the plot made sense within the world of the film. Yes, nearly everything about it was silly and ridiculous, but the movie played by the rules that it established along the way.
For a film with such a strange concept, the writers did a good job of balancing the absurd humor and over the top violence with a few jokes that are much quicker and less noticeable. These comedic elements were easy to miss, but I think they were intentionally made this way. Between serial killers with uncontrollable laughing spasms and Jesse Eisenberg killing people with a spoon, it’s interesting to notice a quick comment in the background that makes you say “wait a minute, did he just say what I think he said?”
While humor was absolutely the driving force behind American Ultra, there was surprisingly a lot of other emotion packed in as well. The two main characters, Mike and Phoebe, are an adorable couple that really care about each other and its easy to root for them from the beginning. Even though they are potheads and the movie relies on a lot of stereotypes of the stoner movie genre, these two are also well drawn individuals that have very distinctive personalities. Some of the secondary characters do not have such well crafted personas, which may be a result of poor acting/writing or could have been purposefully done to accentuate the depth of the two main characters in a movie that draws no such expectations.
Another thing that makes Mike and Phoebe so powerful as characters are the actor and actress portraying them, which may be a bit shocking to some since both Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart have a reputation for playing the same kind of characters over and over again. However, in the last few years, both of these two have branched out and proved their chops in a variety of films. Still, I was very impressed at home much emotion they were able to add to the film by portraying these two characters in the way they did, so I felt as though it was worth mentioning.
If you have the chance, I do recommend going to see American Ultra, though it is definitely not a movie for families. Teenagers and young adults will probably enjoy this film the most, especially if you’re a stoner or have just always wondered what would happen if Pineapple Express, Burn After Reading, Scott Pilgrim, Captain America, and Kick Ass were combined into one comedy. Don’t expect high art here, but if you have an open mind and aren’t bothered by a lot of weirdness, you will have a great time at American Ultra and leave wondering what the hell you just watched, but in the best way possible.