Director: Nima Nourizadeh
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman, Tony Hale
Rated: R (strong bloody violence, language throughout, drug use and some sexual content)
A stoner – who is in fact a government agent – is marked as a liability and targeted for extermination. But he’s too well-trained and too high for them to handle.
By Cole Schneider
“American Ultra” is the kind of movie we should all root for. In a time where Hollywood seems to be pumping out unoriginal, formulaic films, unique is a high compliment to offer “American Ultra” is nothing if not unique. The stoner comedy action spy romance crosses genres with a view toward the audience that is refreshingly askew. Yet, therein lies its problems as well. A lot of bad films are such because they’ve chosen the wrong tone. This one never even made a decision. It’s all over the place tonally.
There are some things that are done with surprising acuity. Kristen Stewart of “Twilight” infamy performs really well in a complicated role and the romance element of the film is, on the whole, very interesting as it unfolds. Moreover, it manages to be quite funny quite often. But the things it does poorly are really too much to overlook. Amid the tonal mess, there is a CIA element that never works. Conceptually and in terms of execution, there isn’t a moment where the focus is on their tactics that is anything more than boring or frustrating.
Also, it should be noted that “American Ultra” is graphic beyond expectations. It’s like a Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction”, “Kill Bill”, “Inglorious Basterds”) movie without the cohesion, thrills, high style, or artistic ambition. All that remains is a violent mess with occasional flourishes. It bears mentioning, however, that I sat in a mostly full theater that seemed very pleased with the product on the screen. Even with its problems, it is nothing if not unique.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
By Matt Greene
If the new movie American Ultra was half as clever as it seems to think it is, it would be a bawdy treat. The design is extremely stylish and even nobly unique, but underneath those flairs of fun is one of the most identity-confused films ever, a true mess of genres and tones that never quite finds its footing. The cool premise and individual moments of fun can’t overcome how poorly executed the final product is. Ultimately, AU is proof that a mash-up of good scenes without a cohesive center does not a good movie make.
Eisenberg and Stewart play a pot-loving couple who learn that their lives may be more than they seem as they run into trouble with the CIA. It’s Pineapple Express meets Bourne, but can’t decide which one it more wants to emulate. At both times absurdly funny and oddly sincere, all the performers seem to be in different movies. On the villain side, we’ve got Goggins giving a Joker-like performance as a darkly hilarious, mentally disturbed madman, while Grace seems to think he’s still on a sitcom, delivering lines with off-putting snark. On the other end, Stewart and Eisenberg fumble between broad comedy and indie drama with little clarity or success blending the two.
Not that it’s devoid of laughs; it manages some humor when it focuses on the identity crisis of a slacker-turned-trained-killer. Unfortunately, our hero wasn’t the only one trying to awkwardly discover himself; so was the movie. What could’ve been an inventive little comedy ala Scott Pilgrim or Zombieland is an ultra-mess.
Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars