Overview: A stoner realizes he’s Jason Bourne with more drugs. Lionsgate; 2015; Rated R; 96 minutes.
American Dream: Go see this movie. Even if you’re unsure about it, go see it. It goes without saying that everyone should see any movie with an open mind, but more important than that is the need to support original films. If you complain about the superhero genre suffocating mainstream cinema and don’t go watch movies like this, you’re part of that particularly imagined problem. American Ultra director Nima Nourizadeh’s appropriately maligned Project X felt too mean to be funny, too vulgar to be clever, and never came together as being anything more than a cheap Superbad knockoff with a better title. Nourizadeh has shown that he knows how to stage a massive party and give it a sense of escalation as the movie escalates in action, but there’s a lot to be concerned about when it comes to a movie that boasts such a stellar cast backed by a script from a writer as creative as the likes of Max Landis as this one. Thankfully, the worries are all for naught, as American Ultra is ultra-fun, and a hyper-kinetic stoner comedy with surprisingly well-choreographed action sequences and an unpredictable emotional center.
The Ultra Experience: Ultimately this movie is a gigantic mishmash of film genres, leading into a balancing act with spinning plates in constant threat of shattering on the floor. Absurd levels of violence permeate each and every scene, yet while there has been obscene levels of movie violence already this year, as in Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, one can’t help but wonder how a more experienced director would have handled the comedy and action while retaining tonal consistency throughout. Nourizadeh shows significant improvement from his Project X days, though the beating heart and brain of the story comes from Landis’ script, complete with an intense focus on emotion over Nourizadeh’s visceral action. Landis’ sentimentalism doesn’t quite balance out perfectly, but it stops uneven pieces from becoming too haphazard.
Stoner Love: Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are actors who struggle to gain credit within mainstream American cinema (though Stewart did just win the French equivalent of an Oscar in Clouds of Sil Maria), but this might be the movie that will turn people around on both performers. Eisenberg plays Mike Howell replete with nervous mannerisms as character definition as he stumbles to survive a government hit squad. Stewart meanwhile remains an unsung hero in the world of film, imbuing her own sense of ethos and pathos into the character of Phoebe Larson. The two young stars’ chemistry happily carries over from their previous collaboration in Adventureland, with the added layers of this film’s particular genre-blend. While the plot machinations deal with government conspiracies and stoner-espionage antics, the light that shines brightest in American Ultra is the central relationship between Mike and Phoebe, and it shines pretty consistently from start to finish.
Overall: American Ultra is a creative, gruesome, abrasive, and romantic movie, and Eisenberg and Stewart reaffirm their status among the very best performers of their generation in a solidly entertaining movie with which to end the summer season.