Pineapple Express without the laughs and The Bourne Ultimatum without the thrills, American Ultra is a stoner action comedy that riffs on the familiar story of a guy who can’t remember that he’s actually a government-trained killing machine. Artless and unpleasant, this is the kind of late-summer swill that gives August a bad name. Directed by Nima Nourizadeh (Project X), the film stars Jesse Eisenberg as Mike, a rural Virginia convenience-store attendant with stringy hair and a weed habit. The one good thing in his otherwise meaningless existence is his endlessly patient girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), whose unconditional love for Mike is as inexplicable to him as it is to us.
If not for a needless prologue promising us that some people will eventually explode, the film’s first few minutes could be mistaken for a generic Sundance drama. No such luck: By the time Mike is “activated,” killing two beefy dudes with a spoon and becoming the target of a CIA manhunt led by Topher Grace’s trite government stooge, the film has already exhausted its slight charms. You best enjoy the idea of a scrawny underachiever learning that he’s a physiologically enhanced super soldier, because it’s the only one the movie has.
Any other appeal here feels like the residue from the tenderness Stewart and Eisenberg cultivated in 2009’s superior Adventureland. Their relationship here feels lived-in and loving but bruised. Still, Max Landis’s immature script seldom gives them interesting things to say to each other, and the movie suffers enormously when they’re separated for long portions of it. Mike is too thinly sketched to carry the film by himself, and the coterie of one-note supporting characters that ride to his rescue (i.e., John Leguizamo as a crazed drug dealer) only serve to remind you of all the fun you’re not having. American Ultra is ultimately as satisfying as smoking oregano.
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Average User Rating
5 / 5
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I can’t recommend this film enough. I heard this year was going to be all about funny spy films, but this one is definitely worth the watch. If you liked Kick Ass, Pineapple Express or Kingsman, this is for you. The plot had me engaged throughout, and it only got better as the film went on. So much so, that I’ve changed my opinion on Kristen Stewart, she was awesome. John Leguizamo deserves a shout out too, without his crazy drug dealing presence, the film wouldn’t have been as amazing as it was!