"I'm Sorry. I'm the Tree. I've Always Been the Tree, and You've Been the Car."
“American Ultra” is trying really hard to be an action movie, and those elements are the weakest parts of the film. There’s a vast government conspiracy to harness ex-criminals and mental patients to fight for the forces of good (that never gets adequately explained), two rogue CIA operatives on opposite moral high grounds (whose motivations are never justified), and blatant disregard by the writer for the average joes who aren’t directly involved in the convoluted story. And when the plot threatens to swallow up the nice side story about an anxious guy in love, I start to lose interest. The first half of the film does some interesting stuff within the action-movie framework; Eisenberg magically learns ninja-level self-defense moves (yeah, it gets explained, but not well) and becomes an unstoppable juggernaut, but only while he’s engaged in combat. Once the fighting’s over he dissolves into anxious paralysis, and Stewart has to take command so they can get to the next phase of their operation. The two characters take turns being utterly useless and utterly in control, a dynamic I had a lot of fun with until the two of them were separated (both physically and emotionally with a hackneyed plot twist that only lands due to Eisenberg and Stewart’s emotional commitment). The rest of the film goes off the rails, and while it does a good job of avoiding cliché, that’s only because it prefers being nonsensical to being formulaic.
As an action film, “American Ultra” is mediocre. As a romantic comedy, it has heart but lacks real humor or focus. There are some nice personal moments between the two leads that make me think if the film was given a couple more drafts before being put into production it might have turned into something special, but I’m not sure that’s the case. The bulk of the film’s content is just too messy and strange to wrestle into a stable story, no matter how hard the director and actors try to help.
Also, if you were hoping for a stoner comedy, the film actually has very little to do with pot. So don’t believe the marketing; this isn’t the next “Pineapple Express”.
There’s a damnable cocktail called the “Mind Eraser”. Too tasty for its own good, too thematically correct for this movie not to be used.
-Drink when someone apologizes for something
-Drink when something explodes
-Drink when someone is shot
-Drink someone smokes a blunt
-Drink when someone gives an order.
This review was written by Hollis Beck (Krissy Pappau). “American Ultra” is produced by Palmstar Media, Circle of Confusion, Likely Story, Merced Media Partners, and Filmnation Entertainment, and distributed by Lionsgate Entertainment. This film is rated “R” with a runtime of 95 minutes.
Special thanks to my patrons Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin, Caroline Kittredge Faustine and Antonia Beck. Your support helped make this article happen!