Directed by: Nima Nourizadeh
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Connie Britton, Topher Grace, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo
Rated: R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, drug use and some sexual content.
There are some movies whose trailers don’t quite do them justice, and whose theater runs are all-too-short. “American Ultra” seems destined for that fate: It’s a cross between the Bourne movies and a stoner comedy. Our hero has all kinds of amazing combat skills whose origin he doesn’t remember, and people are trying to kill him – but he’s just some stoner who works at the Cash-and-Carry and is trying to figure out when to propose to his girlfriend. This is not a movie for everybody, but for the right audience, it’s just about perfect.
Fans of Simon Pegg’s Cornetto Trilogy and other genre mashups will probably feel right at home here. The tone wavers between stoner comedy and black comedy, and once the action starts, it pretty much keeps rolling. There’s plenty of humor, but also some serious emotional content and even bleak commentary on the way government controls how we think.
Our hero, Mike, is played with a sort of well-meaning confusion by Jesse Eisenberg. He handles the stumbling incompetence and the awesome hand-to-hand combat scenes with equal ease. It’s a little strange to praise the acting in a movie like this, but he’s great. Kristen Stewart has unfortunately been heavily tarred with the “Twilight” brush, but as she’s been showing in her projects since (“Snow White and the Huntsman”), she has a good bit of talent, especially when she has a good director. Nimah Nourizadeh has only made one other movie (“Project X,” about a high school party that goes really wild), but he clearly has some chops.
The movers and shakers of the film are CIA agents Lasseter (Connie Britton), who headed up the program that made Mike what he is, and Yates (Topher Grace), who runs a newer version of that program and wants to clean house. Lasseter finds herself trying to help a young man who, even after his amazing abilities show up, is a bit too stoned all the time to keep up well. Yates is every “self-starting” management wanna-be familiar to anybody who’s worked in an office or seen enough movies about it. He’s a putz but he has enough power to turn Mike’s life upside down and wreck everything.
Like “Shaun of the Dead” before it, this strange meld of violence and comedy is gory enough to put off folks who might like the comedy side, and comic enough to possibly put off folks who just want an action movie. It definitely earns its R-rating, and while it doesn’t have any guts being pulled out of bodies, a lot of blood packs go off and the improvised weapons Mike uses are often shown in startling detail.
In short, if you enjoyed “Zombieland” and/or “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”, do not miss this film. If you thought those movies were stupid or confusing and/or think all pot smokers are morons, see something else.