American Ultra Review: Ultra dull

Director: Nima Nourizadeh

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Connie Britton, Topher Grace

The Overview

Small-town stoner Mike Howell (Eisenberg) lives a quiet existence, working in a convenience store, getting high with his girlfriend Phoebe (Stewart) and creating stories about a superhero monkey. His quiet life is soon turned upside down when a mysterious woman (Britton) “activates” him and turns him into a deadly weapon. Unbeknownst to him, Mike is actually a highly dangerous and supremely skilled government agent who has been targeted for termination. Mike and Phoebe are suddenly thrown into chaos, and must avoid the legions of people trying to kill them, all whilst trying to figure out what the hell is going on!

The Good

Based on the trailer, I was expecting some kind of mix between a slacker, stoner comedy and a gloriously over the top bloody action film, à la Kick-Ass. American Ultra did show some promise; Eisenberg and Stewart had previously worked together on the underrated Adventureland and had proven chemistry, and the plot seemed like an interesting concept. Unfortunately it didn’t quite deliver, but we’ll get to that. First let’s look at the good points!

The action scenes are really well done, it’s a little bit gorier than you would expect perhaps, but incredibly stylised and over the top. Not quite Tarantino, but it tries, and very nearly succeeds. The quick cuts in the fight scenes are also great, and a jarring change from the sleepy tone at the start of the film. One particular highlight is the scene in Rose’s (John Leguizamo) basement – the use of ultraviolet light is really clever and adds an interesting dynamic to an otherwise fairly routine fight sequence.

I’m not a huge fan of Eisenberg or Stewart, but they are both pretty good in this film, or as good as they need to be anyway. They have a surprising amount of chemistry and are able to play a pretty convincing and sweet couple. There is a twist in the tale with Stewart’s character (which I won’t spoil) which upsets this dynamic slightly, but the scenes when they are together are good.

The Bad

This film massively lost it’s way quite early on. The first fifteen minutes or so were pretty solid, but then the plot gets confused and it forgets what sort of film it is trying to be. It seems like a film without direction and one which doesn’t know what it is trying to achieve. It’s not funny enough to be a comedy, and it isn’t exciting enough to solely be an action film. A lot of the lines fall pretty flat, and not enough is made of the slightly ludicrous but comical situations the characters find themselves in. Whilst the action sequences are good, there are also long, dull periods where nothing happens, and it feels much longer than it’s breezy 96 minute runtime.

The confused plot also means there isn’t really a clear bad guy or good guy to root for, and the one good character dynamic is ruined with a pointless and unnecessary “twist”. This makes it really difficult to invest in any of the characters and the film as a whole.

The Verdict

I saw this movie so you don’t have to. This could have been a good film, and it’s a shame that they didn’t make more out of the intriguing concept. It’s pretty lacklustre, surprisingly boring and ultimately very forgettable. Don’t pay for it, wait until it’s on Netflix!   

Agree with everything I’ve said, or am I a terribly misguided idiot who has got it all wrong? Please let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to share as well.


2 thoughts on “American Ultra Review: Ultra dull

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  1. I didn’t like American Ultra.

    Action comedies are one of the few things that Hollywood can’t get right (even Mark Kermode described the genre as being very, very difficult to pull off in his reviews of The Green Hornet and American Ultra). There’s definitely a stigma when you have someone like Paul Feig trying really hard to assure people that Spy is not a spoof but a proper spy movie.

    Liked by 1 person

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