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Dan's Review: "American Ultra" could have gone a little more "Gonzo"

Aug 23, 2015 10:08PM ● Published by Dan Metcalf

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in American Ultra - © 2015 - Lionsgate

American Ultra (Lionsgate)

Rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, drug use and some sexual content.

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman, Tony Hale, Stuart Greer, Michael Papajohn, Monique Ganderton, Nash Edgerton, Paul Andrew O'Connor, Freddie Poole, Ilram Choi, James Bendishaw, Lavell Crawford, Sam Malone, Jim Klock, Wayne Pére, Gabe Begneaud.

Written by Max Landis.

Directed by Nima Nourizadeh.

GRADE: B

REVIEW:

People who use a lot of drugs have a reputation for dreaming up all kinds of paranoid scenarios in which they are part of a government conspiracy. What if those conspiracies were true? That’s the premise for American Ultra, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart as two apparent stoners caught in the middle of a CIA operation.

Eisenberg portrays Mike, a West Virginia convenience store clerk in love with Phoebe (Stewart). One day, Agent Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) pays him a visit, reciting some sort of coded message that triggers an innate ability to kill anyone who messes with him. Soon after, other agents show up trying to kill him – and he disposes of them with brutal effectiveness. The “bad” agents are under the control of Agent Lasseter’s boss Adrian Yates (Topher Grace). Yates wants to eliminate Mike, who is part of a failed super soldier/mind control program. As Yate’s squads try to corner Mike and Phoebe, all kinds of mayhem ensue, and the body count rises until a final showdown inside a hardware store.

American Ultra has a few things going for it. Primarily, there’s Eisenberg – whose acting ability and comic timing are the perfect match for quirky killing machine trying to make sense of an altered reality. Also contributing to the dark comedy is a clever script, penned by Max Landis. The rest of the cast is adequate, including Britton, Grace and Stewart, who does a little more acting than her usual sullen self. Tony Hale (“Buster” from the cult TV hit Arrested Development) provides a few laughs, too.

What American Ultra doesn’t have going for it is a story that makes much sense. It could have been a little better had rookie director Nima Nourizadeh embraced some of the more gonzo elements of a stoner who discovers that his worst paranoid fears about the government were really true. 


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