American Ultra Review

  • Director: Nima Nourizadeh
  • Cast: Jessie Eisenberg, Kirsten Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton
  • Rating: 15 (UK), R (USA)
  • Length: 96 mins
  • Genre: Action/Comedy-ish

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American Ultra stars Jessie Eisenberg (The Social Network and Now You See Me) as the bumbling stoner Mike Howell, who works in a 24 hour grocery store and lives in a small town in West Virginia with his longtime girlfriend Phoebe (The Twilight Saga’s Kirsten Stewart).

The couple are madly in love – so much so that Mike plans to propose on a romantic getaway in Hawaii.  Unfortunately for Mike, he suffers from a panic attack, which regularly happens whenever he tries to leave town, that means he and Phoebe have to cancel their trip and head home.

Mike’s thinks his panic attacks are down to deep psychological problem but in actual fact he’s a CIA sleeper agent who’s been moulded to fall sick whenever he’s about to leave West Virginia.

The woman who originally programmed him as part of a top secret initiative, Victoria (Connie Britton) learns that her co-worker Adrian (Topher Grace) aims to wipe out Mike, so she heads to the store he works at to activate him but soon leaves frustrated as it appears his fondness for the sweet Mary-Jane blocks out his hidden CIA coding.

All this happens in the first 20 minutes or so which chugs along at a steady pace. The film quickly shifts into gear not long after Victoria visits Mike as two of Adrian’s men try to kill him outside of his work. The two henchmen end up getting killed themselves as Mike unknowingly unleashes his inner-Jackie Chan and creatively dispatches them using a cup of noodles and a spoon.

From this point on, Mike and Phoebe find themselves embroiled in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with Adrian and his men, as they try to figure out what the hell is going on while trying to stay alive.

The trailer for American Ultra suggests that it is an action comedy with a Pineapple Express meets Bourne vibe. The action in the film is thoroughly entertaining as director Nima Nourizadeh (who also helmed 2012’s comedy Project X) will wow you with how inventive and imaginative he can make the violence. American Ultra is ultraviolent and the bloody, brutal yet cartoonish carnage will remind you of Matthew Vaugn’s stylised violence in Kick Ass and Kingsman. The climatic fight scene in a supermarket is particularly gory yet gleeful to watch.

Don't try this at your local supermarket!
Don’t try this at your local supermarket!

While the film definitely delivers on an action front, it somewhat mismanages the comedy side of things as the kooky nature of Chronicle writer Max Landis’ original script isn’t fully realised.

This is mainly due to the casting of Eisenberg and Stewart in the lead roles which turn out to be a double edged sword for the film. On the one hand the brilliant chemistry between the two creates a convincing couple who you’ll enjoy watching for 90 odd minutes. Seeing Eisenberg suddenly switch from the typical neurotic nerdy character who he always seems to play (hopefully his Lex Luthor in next year’s Batman v Superman will show a different side) into a kick-ass kung-fu killing machine turns out to be great fun.

Jessie Eisenberg as Mike
Jessie Eisenberg as Mike

Stewart injects enough personality into Phoebe to make her a likeable character which is a stark contrast to her miserable and moody public persona.

Kirsten Stewart showing a rare smile as Phoebe
Kirsten Stewart showing a rare smile as Phoebe

Both also handle the dramatic scenes incredibly well as their performances in the quieter, more emotional moments in the film are grounded and gripping.

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On the other hand, both Eisenberg and Stewart fail to effectively bring consistent comedy to their characters as although their performances are quite quirky, they lack the natural comedic flair to make an audience laugh over and over again. The humour in America Ultra isn’t brought out to its full potential as Eisenberg and Stewart’s dry delivery of dialogue means that much of the comedy in the ludicrous situations Mike and Phoebe find themselves in isn’t milked well enough.  Perhaps casting today’s comedy go-to guys and gals such as Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse or even Michael Cera (whatever happened to that guy) along with Emma Stone or Ellen Page in the lead roles would have squeezed more laughter out of the film.

Topher Grace tries to be the sarcastic a-hole baddie who you’ll love to hate but in the end he tries a little too hard and ends up making his character Adrian annoying for the wrong reasons.

Ultimately, despite a misleading lack of comedy, American Ultra is still a fun ride as the story’s twists and turns as well as the extreme action will have you entertained for the film’s entirety. While the film doesn’t quite reach its full potential, it’s worth a watch – even if that means waiting until it’s out on Netflix or on demand. American Ultra scores a:

6.25 (yes I’m being that precise)/10

Check out the trailer here:

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