REVIEW: American Ultra

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by Dustin Heller

American Ultra is a new stoner action comedy starring Jessie Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart.  Stewart and Eisenberg starred alongside one another in a small independent comedy a few years back called Adventureland.  If you haven’t seen it, I’d highly recommend giving it a watch.

American Ultra is directed by Nima Nourizadeh and written by Max Landis.  Both of these guys got their big break with hugely successful found footage films, Project X for Nourizadeh and Chronicle for Landis.  Starring alongside the two leads are Topher GraceConnie BrittonWalton Goggins, John LeguizamoBill Pullman and Tony Hale.

Mike (Eisenberg) and Phoebe (Stewart) are your every day stoners from a small town in West Virginia.  They are madly in love with one another and Mike is waiting for the perfect moment to ask Phoebe to marry him.  One night while working his normal shift at the local Cash n’ Carry, Mike gets a visit from a mysterious woman who speaks gibberish, but the words trigger something in him.

Moments later, some men are messing around with Mike’s car in the parking lot and he goes out to confront them.  One thing leads to another and now two men are dead.  Mike immediately calls Phoebe and they both get arrested and taken to the local jail.  It’s here where they realize that they are being targeted and must go on the run to survive, but what seems like the truth isn’t always the case.

The best way for me to describe American Ultra is The Bourne Identity for the stoner generation.  The movie is billed as an action comedy, but I didn’t find it the least bit funny.  I guess the comedy comes from the two leads getting high and saying and doing things that stoned people do, something that has been played to death and is quite unimaginative.

The action side of the movie is actually quite good and Eisenberg and Stewart have genuine on-screen chemistry.  A lot of the fight sequences use that cinema verite guerrilla filming style where it looks and feels like it was shot with a hand-held camera.  I think this works on some level, but towards the end the camera was almost too shaky.  There are a few twists and turns in the plot that you don’t necessarily see coming which work really well.  American Ultra isn’t breaking any new ground, but it was a pretty good time at the movies.  Although, I wouldn’t feel the need to rush out to the theater and see it.

Grade:  B-

American Ultra opens in theaters on Friday, August 21.