American Ultra


Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

American Ultra
"The lack of any real ‘pop’ to the proceedings is rooted in the fact that the whole film is played as a flashback."

Chronicle, Max Landis’s subdued take on the superhero origin story, provided enough twists and and flourishes to give it a refreshing perspective, and Josh Trank’s direction gave it some excellent grounding. With American Ultra, Landis takes a stab at the brainwashed super soldier and US conspiracy stories, with Nima Nourizadeh taking on the task of direction.

It’s not quite as novel a concept, trading Akira style personal awakening for MK Ultra inspired covert super agents. Jesse Eisenberg plays Mike, a down and out stoner with comic book artist aspirations who rates his relationship to Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) as the greatest thing to ever happen to him. Despite his ineptitude, propensity for panic attacks, and inability to leave town, Phoebe acts as his anchor to reality. Even when his neuroses foil an attempted marriage proposal, she still finds time to indulge his goofball tendencies.

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Elsewhere, CIA agent Lasseter (Connie Britton) receives a tip that her hidden Wiseman asset is about to put out of commission by the Toughguy program, set in motion by Topher Grace’s petulant and smarmy agent Yates. In an effort to save her pet project, Lasseter activates Mike with a series of codewords straight from the pages of an Illuminati obsessed website. What follows is an attempt at mixing tender character development with doses of kinetic action which see Eisenberg’s gangly hero disarm the psychotic Toughguy assets with a mix of brutal efficiency and Bourne style use of everyday items.

Whilst the Government Asset plot fails to deliver anything new, the chemistry between Stewart and Eisenberg works surprisingly well. They play the affected stoner couple well, and a slightly overwrought metaphor for their relationship about a useless tree stopping a fast moving and beautiful car feels clunky but ends up being played for fairly endearing effect. Just as Phoebe acts as Mike’s anchor, the couple act as an emotional hook for the film, and as revelations about the history of the Wiseman program come to light there’s a human core to proceedings that stops it from being flippant and pointless.

Despite this, the film never really lives up to the sum of its parts. The action often feels underwhelming, generally due to the fact that the Toughguy assets, despite being given code names, are rarely presented in a way that lends them any characterisation. Only Walton Goggins' portrayal as the volatile and unbalanced ‘Laugher’ ever comes close to giving some depth to the faceless goons, despite being sadly under baked. The lack of any real ‘pop’ to the proceedings is rooted in the fact that the whole film is played as a flashback, essentially robbing events of much chance for impact due to predetermined consequences. It’s an odd choice that chimes with a bunch of other minor flaws to make this an uneven if fairly enjoyable romp.

Reviewed on: 26 Aug 2015
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American Ultra packshot
A secret agent undercover as a drug user is marked for extermination but proves too hardcore and too high to handle.
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Director: Nima Nourizadeh

Writer: Max Landis

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Connie Britton, Topher Grace, Walter Goggins, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman

Year: 2015

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: US


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