American Ultra: I Know I Left the Ultra Here Somewhere, by Rudie Obias
Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) are happy enough smoking primo bong hits all day long, living a quiet life working menial jobs in a small town in West Virginia. They’ve built a happy life together as a pair of losers going nowhere. That is, until Mike realizes that he’s part of a C.I.A. plot to turn repeat non-violent criminals into hidden super killing machines tasked with doing the government’s dirty work.
Things really go awry when young government upstart Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) plans to dispose the C.I.A.’s “Ultra” program for his own group of elite assets, but the program’s head Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) does everything she can to protect her sleeper agent. Unfortunately, while the film has some wonderful action, and real drama and romance with Mike and Phoebe, American Ultra fails to live up to its original and bizarre premise and its charming actors. The film never seems to bring all of its wonderful elements together in any meaningful way, which appears to stem from director Nima Nourizadeh’s (Project X) lack of vision and creativity.
Throughout most of the film, I couldn’t help but think that American Ultra should be more fun and exciting with an inventive story and charismatic actors featured. It doesn’t even shine as a stoner movie because the characters just seem like people who like smoking pot every now and then instead of people who are consumed and driven to only smoke weed. I really wished the film played up the stoner humor and fun nature of its script, which was written by Max Landis (Chronicle). Imagine that, a stoner comedy without enough marijuana! It feels like American Ultra could’ve been served with a better director behind the scenes making creative and interesting decisions instead of a paint-by-numbers action comedy.
Even in a few of its most exciting action sequences, I found myself bored with American Ultra’s mediocrity. Almost all of the action is put together with quick editing to hide stunt men and stand ins for Eisenberg, Stewart, and Walton Goggins, who plays Yates’ prized agent. There’s an action sequence that unfolds in one long handheld shot, which sounds impressive, but Nourizadeh uses the maddening shaky cam technique to pull off the single take. Why?! Single takes shots aren’t as impressive if we can’t see the action on the big screen.
One of the brighter spots of American Ultra is its co-stars. Eisenberg and Stewart have an amazing chemistry together. The two of them just have a way about them that seems natural and playful that makes me want to see them in more movies together. It’s an unlikely pairing that just works on the big screen.
American Ultra is a movie with something missing. With all of its good elements, it really seems that it should come together better than it did. The story is original with clever writing and plotting, and the actors are a treat to watch, but it just feels like the director really lets the film down with uninspired and mundane camerawork, editing, and presentation. American Ultra could’ve been a special film, but it just doesn’t go far enough to make it memorable or lively.