American Ultra – Film Review

Picture a grand idea in your head, but once it comes into fruition, it does not quite come out as colourful as you first pictured it. If you have seen the trailer for American Ultra, this is what waits for you.

I will not lie; the trailer promises a lot of close-call action, and even though bloody thrillers are not my cup of tea, I was interested to see how it would all play out. But as much as people loved Nima Nourizadeh’s Project X, the Messy Mishaps of a Young Stoner narrative can only take you so far.
In American Ultra, much of Project X’s grand mishap tendencies seem to segue into the story. From the quiet sequences of a still town, to a series of bad luck and tomato sauce-like blood spewing, we follow some thrilling action scenes that definitely feed your anticipation throughout the movie.
Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend, Phoebe Larson (Kristen Stewart) live in a quiet town where there is not much to do but get stoned every day. One day, Mike is visited at the convenience store where he works, by Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton), a member of the CIA, who warns him that he has been targeted for elimination.
When two strangers pay him a visit later that night, Mike is able to terminate them with only a spoon and a cup of hot noodles. The confused stoner kid who can not even leave town owing to anxiety attacks is now a stone cold killer – and a good one at that.
We later learn that Mike is a trained CIA super soldier. And from hearing the title of this film, the term MK Ultra just has to spring to mind; a post WWII operation comprised of experiments to create an undetectable mind control ‘machine’. I imagine that something similar is what they are alluding to when they summoned up this title and narrative. It is interesting how such ideas are then adapted for our amusement.
With an entire CIA team on his tail, Mike’s survival is controlled by the part of his mind programmed for mortal combat. This somewhat daft stoner kid who, with his own mind, can not even process the instinct of survival (in one scene he alerts the enemy of a weapon that is within arm’s reach of the enemy) but, with his programmed mind, Mike is able to kill by deflecting a bullet using a frying pan. It does sound impressive, right?
However, the only thing this movie has to offer is the action. And yes, Kirsten Stewart’s performance is surprisingly good, and the chemistry between herself and Jesse Eisenburg makes them look like a match made in the USA. But I can not help but feel like the viewing experience comprises more anxiety than anticipation. Almost everything in this movie is heightened, and there is not much balancing in the varying tones that play out. Almost every mood is severe. And even though there is an abundance of action, the story itself is barely stirring. I mean, it almost sounds ridiculous even listing all the genres and moods that surface in this film, but basically, if dark comedy, slapstick, romance and drama could all have a baby, it would be this 94 minute film.
American Ultra is a movie that had the potential to be an action-packed story that is also comically satisfying, but it lost me with its instability. It is clear to see that Nourizadeh and Landis were really committed to the “go big or go home” statement, but I think you will be better off if you just stay at home.