American Ultra Review
There have been performers that I like and performers I don't like. There is something to the talent of an actor that draws me to them, that gets me excited when I hear their names. Even if I don't love everything they do, I usually don't hold it against them. I find it really easy to get drawn back into whatever made them great in the first place. For performers I don't much care for, that is a lot harder to do. If I watch an actor fail time and time again, it gets much harder for me to care about them in the future. I try really hard to give everybody the benefit of the doubt, but when you do nothing but crap, that gets much harder to do. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are two actors I couldn't care less about. Sure, Eisenberg was something else in "The Social Network,"and I liked "Zombieland" and "Rio." But nothing much else of his has ever sparked my interest, I still don't buy him as Lex Luthor and he's going to have to do some heavy lifting for me to buy him in that role. Kristen Stewart was good in...well...grrr...I can't really think of anything.
Surprisingly enough, I was kind of drawn to "American Ultra," and I decided to rent it tonight and give it a try. I thought some parts of the trailers looked funny, I think its been a stellar year for everything spy, I like Connie Britton, Topher Grace and Walton Groggins, and I like comedy with a little action thrown in. This looked like it could have been good fun. For the most part, "American Ultra" is good fun. Kristen Stewart actually gives a heartfelt, sincere performance. That is a sentence I never thought I would ever write. I also found Eisenberg mildly interesting in this movie, and he handles himself well as half killer/half pothead. Britton, Grace and Groggins are all excellent and so is Bill Pullman and John Leguizamo, two actors I had no idea were even in this. The action is all handled well, in a fun kind of way. There was a lot of good in "American Ultra," some of it I even found surprisingly satisfying.
Eisenberg plays Mike Howell, a drug store clerk who smokes lots of pot. He has a strong connection to his girlfriend Phoebe (Stewart) so much so that he's ready to propose. The problem is, he's having trouble finding the right moment to take the plunge. What is also weird is that he tries to make the proposal special by doing it out of town, but every time they try to leave their home state, Howell starts getting panic attacks. One random day, he starts getting attacked by CIA operatives, and he suddenly begins to find out that he can think himself out of dangerous situations and kill people with just about anything he can get his hands on. Somehow, these two events are linked together, but how?
The explanation to me is a little silly. See, there are two rival CIA agents, Lasseter (Britton) and Yates (Grace). Lasseter tried to create an army of perfect operatives, part of what was called the Ultra program. A program which failed. Yates revamps the program and titles it Tough Guys, and his programs thrives. The CIA decides, under Yates, to terminate the remaining members of Ultra located at various points in the world, but Lasseter doesn't want that to happen. Why is she so attached to them even though they failed? No compelling answer is ever dealt. If Howell is still unique and powerful, why terminate him at all? The movie raises lots more questions than answers. While "American Ultra" is certainly not the first movie to ever do this, the execution of the whole thing makes it hard to ignore.
Plus, there are moments where I can really figure out what "American Ultra" is. I thought it would be an action-comedy, but not much of it is funny. I specifically can't remember laughing once. The action I will say is very good, and it certainly tries for the laugh, but it fails for me. There are also way too many adorable moments between Stewart and Eisenberg that its almost distracting, as if this is a Nicholas Sparks version of a pothead spy movie. (That's something I think I'd actually see!) But those moments and the over-abundance of those moments makes the movie very puzzling.
Still, any movie that can have me interested in Kirsten Stewart should be given a look just for that. "American Ultra" is mostly a crazy, wild ride. A ride I mostly enjoyed. Sadly, it never adds up to the sum of its parts.
FINAL GRADE: C