American Ultra Movie Review
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American Ultra is the type of film to get excited about. The type with characters put in impossible situations with perseverance as their greatest asset. Explosions, kick-ass fighting and a smart-ass hero are always a bonus. American Ultra fits that bill, for the most part, but it also feels underdeveloped at the expense of its players.
Mike Howell and Phoebe Larson, played by Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, are a pair of slacker stoners seemingly trapped within the confines of a small-town in West Virginia. Mike is an anxious convenience store clerk who draws comics in his free time. Unknown to Mike is that he is a highly-trained sleeper-assassin, and he’s been marked for extermination.
Mike is hopelessly in love with Phoebe. He plans to marry this girl but fears his anxiety is holding her back, after all, they did miss a trip to Hawaii due to a last-minute panic attack. The self-loathing poindexter is somewhat of an Eisenberg specialty, which he lends well to the part. So why is Phoebe so reluctant to leave Mike? The better question, should the audience care? It’s these teaser notions that writer Max Landis snipes into his work, but in this instance Phoebe’s motivation is no more smart than it is obvious. Considering what little she has to work with, Stewart puts together a performance rivaling her male counterpart. I’m not for making a habit of offering suggestions, but Phoebe should have been kicking ass, but instead is sidelined for much of the film.
Meanwhile, back at CIA headquarters, Agent Yates (Topher Grace) is planning to kill Mike by sending an elite team of assassins to eliminate him. Yates’ opposition, Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton), who created the sleeper agent program that trained Mike, treks to West Virginia to warn the pothead of his fate and to “activate” his skills.
Much to his surprise, Mike dispatches a pair of henchmen with relative ease using only the spoon from his yogurt cup. The over-the-top violence ensues. These moments when Mike surprises himself and his anxiety creeps-in are some of the movie’s more humorous moments. Unfortunately, anything involving the film’s antagonists, in this case Laugher (Walton Goggins) or Yates seems all too forced and distractive. I’m a little biased though as I checked out on Topher’s ridiculously amateur acting chops years ago. He sinks to an all-time low with this outing.
As the story continues to unfold we learn the extent of Phoebe’s love for Mike and why (we already knew) she stuck with this slacker for so many years. The romantic interaction between Eisenberg and Stewart are the film’s greatest appeal and may be worth the price of admission for fans of these actors.
It’s worth noting John Leguizamo makes an appearance throughout the film. He is Mike’s eccentric drug dealer and friend in a part that is massively underutilized and ultimately forgotten. And that’s the problem with American Ultra; it’s not quite polished enough to be remembered. There are many better espionage action film’s to enjoy from this year.