Friday, August 21, 2015

American Ultra

The tail end of the summer movie season is pretty much a crap shoot. While I was pleasantly surprised with the under-appreciated The Man from U.N.C.L.E., director Nima Nourizadeh's stoner-action comedy is more what I've come to expect from this time of year. American Ultra isn't a bad film, but it's not all-together a good one either. A hodgepodge of ideas from both better and worse movies, American Ultra is an occasionally enjoyable B-movie mess.

Jesse Eisenberg stars as stoner convenience clerk Mike Howell with a girlfriend (Kristen Stewart) too good for him, friends (most notably John Leguizamo) just as mentally-challenged, and a brain full of secret CIA training which has been locked away for years until the most over-the-top Topher Grace ever captured on film decides to have Howell killed by agents that make the bad guys in Hudson Hawk look like Bond villains.

Activated by the former leader (Connie Britton) of the project, Howell soon finds himself with the ability to instinctively kill in a variety of bizarre ways without ever understanding exactly how, why, or what he's doing. Dumb, but at least it looks cool on camera.

Much like Hudson Hawk, American Ultra's biggest problem is there's simply too much, all of it outrageous, to take any of the film seriously. Set in the real world, had Howell been the only absurd aspect of the story American Ultra might have had a chance. Instead the film continues to pile on creating something more akin to a video game (even giving us first-person shooter mode in the final act) than a fully fleshed-out script. Not only are Eisenberg, Leguizamo, Britton, and Grace's characters all inherently ridiculous, but the film adds gasoline to the fire with the goofy killers sent to kill Howell, laughable dumb government programs, and Tony Hale doing his regular shtick as the agent caught in-between the pissing match of Britton and Grace.

While the action scenes and various jokes cover up much of the film's flaws it doesn't help that screenwriter Max Landis has very odd ideas about how local and federal agencies work. Nothing about the CIA rings true here nor the ease in which the entire incident of multiple murders and exploding buildings is somehow hushed up in the social media age by a single bad joke on monkey sex sadly repeated by several characters. If American Ultra has a fatal flaw its that its story is no smarter than its leading character who only makes it through the experience given his love for a remarkably tolerant woman and lots and lots of weed (both of which you may need if you're ever to truly enjoy the movie as intended).

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