September 2, 2015

Movie Review: American Ultra

The idea of American Ultra is not a new one. It is a movie that relies heavily on familiar elements to keep everything moving. While it is not exactly new material, this is not a negative. In fact, the familiarity lays down the framework on which they are able to execute the elements that differentiate it from others of its ilk. I think the closest comparison would be The Bourne Identity. Perhaps Stoner Bourne? Obviously, not everyone is going to be into this, nor is it a great movie, but I found it to be quite entertaining, a refreshing cinematic excursion.

The movie was directed by Nima Nourizadeh. It is only his second feature film, the first being Project X, the high school party movie from a few years ago. I never saw it, can't say it looked all that good to me, although I will probably check it out at some point. In any case, hearings a lot of kinetic energy to the screen with his second outing. Writing duties were handled by Max Landis, who wrote Chronicle a few years ago and has Victor Frankenstein coming this Fall. With Landis it is interesting to see his fun and creative success here, while his Chronicle partner, director Josh Trank, is getting pummeled over the rather bad Fantastic Four film.

American Ultra centers on Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg), a stoner with anxiety issues who works at a convenience store. He lives with the love of his life, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart). However, this means little as a CIA agent Victoria (Connie Britton) discovers that some tough guy agents have been dispatched to erase one Mike Howell. This order came from jerky CIA director Adrian Yates (Topher Grace), and he is dead set on seeing it completed.

You see, Mike was a CIA experiment, trying to create the perfect soldier. They failed, so Mike is in the wind, essentially, until Victoria activates him. This is where the fun begins. Just think about that, a CIA agent, who doesn't know he is an agent, has become a stoner, and finds himself under attack by trained killers, only to find he is a pretty skilled killer too. Tell me that doesn't sound like fun? You can't.

That is really all there is to the plot. You have Mike versus the CIA, but on the personal side you have Mike dealing with his feelings for Phoebe and the realization of who he is. It is a fun movie that uses familiarity to ease you into the more unique and energetic elements. It is an over the top movie with nicely staged action that does not shy away from getting a little blood on their hands. Plus, it has heart, seriously. Eisenberg and Stewart work well together, and I like Britton, she brings a great genuine quality. On top of that Topher Grace is a great smug jerk that you just want to punch.

What else is there to say? This is no groundbreaking feature, it is no game changer, but it executed a clever and quirky film with plenty of energy over a bed of familiar elements. It is a great late summer slice of entertain,net, a movie that never tries too hard and is content to just be what it is, relaxed fun. This is certainly worth checking out.


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