Saturday, August 22, 2015

Movie Review #298: "American Ultra" (2015)

Movie"American Ultra"
Ticket Price: $12.50
Director: Nima Nourizadeh
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
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A lazy stoner named Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) has his life turned upside down when he discovers he is actually a CIA agent programmed to kill and has been targeted for elimination.  

"American Ultra" combines concepts from films like the "The Manchurian Candidate," "The Bourne Identity," and "Half Baked" to create a decent enough action-based stoner comedy. Mike Howell, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is the stereotypical stoner who live with his girlfriend Phoebe, played by Kristin Stewart. They are "the perfect fucked-up couple" and we know from the beginning that Mike isn't what he seems. The story opens with him in custody and is told through a flashback. Mike thinks he is just an average guy who lives in a small town, really likes weed, and is sort of a screw-up as he suffers from anxiety, especially whenever he and his girlfriend try to travel anywhere. This puts a damper on their relationship, but it is obvious that Phoebe and Mike love and care for one another despite their screw-ups. Adrien Yates, played by Topher Grace, is a young CIA commander trying to make his mark and has targeted Mike for elimination because of Mike's attempts to travel. This doesn't sit well Victoria Lasseter, played by Connie Britton, who was in charge of Mike's program. In order to save him, Lasseter goes rogue and activates Mike by visiting the mini mart where he works and speaks a secret phrase which he doesn't understand at first. Suddenly, whenever Mike is attacked or threatened, his CIA combat training kicks in and he becomes an uber-killing machine with whatever "weapon" is around, be it a shovel, a frying pan, a cup of noodles, or even a spoon.

This is a pretty fun movie overall, but it is by no means perfect. We feel like we have seen this movie before, but it is different this time around because of its cast. Usually in big, over-the-top action movies, the principle actors are yolked up hulks, and in stoner movies, it's the skinny, unclean, hardly coherent mid-20's type. Jesse Eisenberg neither of those things. He plays the same type of character he usually plays before he is activated into a merciless robo-killer, you know, the squirrely guy who kind of unsure of himself but seems to be a semi-intellectual character. Once activated, Eisenberg's normal traits remain the same, but he is turned into this super agent who can kill people without recourse at the drop of a hat with a spoon, we might add. Even though he is a super agent, he maintains the confused stoner quality we expected, just in an Eisenberg type of way. Kristen Stewart is the yin to Mike's yang as Phoebe, but even she has secrets she doesn't him to discover. A stoner herself, she seems to be the one who grounds Mike whenever his anxiety sets in. Having worked together in the past, Stewart and Eisenberg as love interests seem to have good chemistry opposite each other, and we believe them as the aforementioned fucked up couple who likes to get stoned and chill out in their boring, small town. Apart from these two, John Legiuzamo is in this film for a short time and brings some of its funniest moments; he has some excellent and hilarious exchanges with Eisenberg. Tony Hale plays a small, hardly worthwhile role. Connie Britton has a bit of a more substantial part and she does just fine where she's needed. Apparently Topher Grace hasn't gotten the hint about how lousy he is at his job, and he serves at this movie's "bad guy," so to speak. The violence in this film is extremely graphic at times and has definitely earned this film its hard R rating. The humor here is sometimes witty and other times dark and slapstick, and though it won't be considered the best comedy of this year, it's entertaining enough and the action is fun despite its random twists and turns and goings on. 

My Rating: 6.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 6.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 47%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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