A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
Directed By: Nima Nourizadeh
Produced By: Anthony Bregman, Kevin Frakes, Raj Brinder Singh
Written By: Max Landis
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton
Running Time: 96 Minutes
For those familiar with Max Landis, you’ll know of his eccentric nature and loud presence. These qualities transcend into his writing, or at least the final projects we have seen his name attached to.
His latest screenplay is a stoner comedy action drama involving government operatives, CIA agents and copious amounts of marijuana, all making for something rather ridiculous at the end of it all.
Whilst not tremendous, albeit ludicrous as a matter of fact, American Ultra is a mostly forgettable picture with a peppering of quality.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Mike Howell, a longhaired stoner who works at a local convenience store doodling sketches of an action hero monkey all day.
Living with his stoner girlfriend Phoebe Larson (played by Kristen Stewart), Howell’s life is steady, laid-back and as calm as it can be (given he is prone to severe panic attacks which serve as a sizeable issue for the couple every now and then).
After a rather strange altercation outside his workplace, Howell discovers his secret abilities in combat and an action-packed journey of self-discovery begins.
The style of American Ultra is quick-fire and energetic with a sense of urgency and comedic dread. Nima Nourizadeh (director of 2012’s Project X) has crafted a well-rounded story and extracted seemingly all that he can from his cast, both of which are good qualities to emerge from the film.
As far as pacing is concerned, the film reaches a stage where it is at its most frantic and maintains a consistent pulse for the brunt of the remaining runtime, however achieving a level of energy within a film is mainly due to the editing style; there has to be an investable story to really keep an audience hooked.
Sadly, American Ultra’s storyline is fraught with tiresome clichés lousy and supporting characters (including Topher Grace, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman, Tony Hale and Connie Britton) with equally lousy arks.
On paper, a stoner action comedy written by Max Landis sounds appealing, however perhaps through casting, marketing or even the choice of director, American Ultra is passable at best.
Eisenberg and Stewart reunite after 2009’s Adventureland, and the duo produce solid and impressive performances amid a slightly questionable period of efforts, particularly for Stewart. She has definitely improved since Twilight (when will we stop associating it with the poor girl?), however in light of recent efforts in films such as Clouds of Sils Maria, there hasn’t been any form of immense improvement on her part.
Eisenberg will forever play a variation of himself for the remainder of his career. Sadly, he is not able to produce a transformative performance in the sense that he becomes unrecognisable.
Although its the best possible compliment for an actor and it appears as though Eisenberg is being heavily and unfairly criticised, there are moments of brilliance from him as Howell, however these moments are met with praise of Eisenberg momentarily breaking away from his regular Eisenberg-isms, which lessens the level of said praise a fair bit.
The pair have a strong resemblance to Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis’ Mickey and Mallory Knox from 1994’s Natural Born Killers (as mentioned in the subheading).
This connection was one of the better aspects of the film in that the love shared between these two amid a violent spree of blood, death and rampage created a sense that nothing else really mattered, as long as the two were together.
There are stark differences between the specific characters, stories and subplots, however when broken down, a lot could be said for a possible influence from Oliver Stone’s 1994 violent romantic crime classic.
American Ultra is worth a watch, but only if you have absolutely nothing else to fill your time with. It’s a fairly average picture with sporadic moments that will impress (for example, a violent climatic long shot in a supermarket). Eisenberg and Stewart in leading roles were fine, whilst supporting roles seemed to miss the mark.
Max Landis is a smart man who definitely has the knack for writing a good story, however with American Ultra, there didn’t seem to be anything ultra unique at all.