Movie review: ‘American Ultra’ struggles to find its perspective
Directed By Nima Nourizadeh
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Connie Britton, John Leguizamo, Topher Grace, Bill Pullman, Tony Hale
Rated R, Comedy, Action, 99 minutes
It’s disappointing to foresee a film’s major plot twists by merely viewing its trailer. Granted, critics see more than their share of movies, and in this case, my own exposure led to several showings of “American Ultra’s” trailer. Because the film promised to be hilarious, I hoped it wasn’t giving the entire plot away. Well it isn’t, and it did.
A small-town stoner, Mike (Jesse Eisenberg), is an unambitious convenience store clerk who discovers he is actually a highly skilled killer able to off an armed assassin simply using a spoon. He is unable to remember how or when he acquired this skill, but since he smokes enough pot to remain perpetually confused, he relies on the moral support and common sense of his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart). She dresses like a trucker, but beneath her red-orange hair resides a smart, sensitive woman.
She’s intensely loyal to Mike and quite taken by the comic book character he doodles, “Apollo the Astronaut Ape.” Phoebe encourages Mike to pen Apollo’s adventures, but he insists he’d rather just talk about them.
Whether Mike is a) truly gifted, b) an idiot savant or c) simply lucky to survive the assaults of multiple well-armed and trained hit men is impossible to know because he appears to be all of the above. Mike’s skill manifests in his knack for defending himself using dustpans, canned tomatoes and frozen hamburger patties.
Since Mike is the target of a government hit sanctioned by an agency bureaucrat (Topher Grace), Mike’s small West Virginia town is soon overrun by CIA tools. Mike’s only help comes from Phoebe and the CIA handler (Connie Britton) responsible for recruiting and training Mike before the agency stripped his memory and saddled him with an anxiety disorder.
Having long fantasized about proposing to Phoebe, Mike purchases illegal fireworks for the event. Naturally, these figure hilariously into Mike’s impromptu plans to rescue Phoebe after she is kidnapped by the agency.
Exposing viewers to plenty of killing and bloodshed that’s less funny than it wants to believe, the story seems stranded between seriousness and humor, unable to reach the potential of either choice.
Although “American Ultra” falls prey to a predictable plot, its failure to choose a viewpoint is its most damaging practice.