American Ultra Movie Review

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are a winning pairing in American Ultra, the director Nima Nourizadeh’s tongue-in-cheek genre mash-up. The movie opens with a surprisingly earnest tale of dead-end lovebirds before ramping up to crazy violent action. Amid the idiocy, a few funny jokes hit. But the best moments come from Mike and Phoebe’s believable relationship.

Jesse Eisenberg

In a summer movie landscape dominated by reboots and sequels, American Ultra is a breath of fresh air. It is not a great film, but it is surprisingly fun. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart have good chemistry together, and John Leguizamo is hilarious. The supporting cast, including Topher Grace, make the film worth watching.

The fact that American Ultra – which merges stoner comedy with crazy, bloody action – works as well as it does is a testament to the strength of its two leads. Eisenberg’s Mike is an aimless pot-smoking loser who copes with crippling anxiety by working at a Cash-N-Carry convenience store in dead-end Nowheresville, W.Va. His long-time girlfriend, Phoebe (Stewart), is a small town dreamer who takes his screw-ups with equanimity.

The story of sleeper agents and their slacker accomplices has been done many times before, but the filmmakers (director Nima Nourizadeh of party film Project X and writer Max Landis of low-budget superhero flick Chronicle) keep things interesting with some inventive violence and a pair of believable performances from Eisenberg and Stewart.

Kristen Stewart

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart reteam after 2009’s Adventureland, and the pair have solid chemistry together. Stewart, in particular, finds fascinating layers of complexity in her character’s arc. She starts out warm and relatable, but as the film progresses, she unveils intriguing shades of sadness, regret, righteous fury, and femme fatale deception.

Although American Ultra’s story isn’t original and the plot mashes up many different genres, it works best in its more small moments. Mike’s amusing defense strategies, a late brawl in a grocery store, and Topher Grace’s bumbling antagonist all provide the solar movies with its most enjoyable moments.

The film also benefits from the strength of its two lead actors and a solid supporting cast. Connie Britton, Tony Hale, Walton Goggins and John Leguizamo all turn in noteworthy performances, even if the plot doesn’t always make sense. In the end, American Ultra is an undemanding late summer studio movie that’s mostly fun in fits and starts.

John Leguizamo

American Ultra is a flat, boring comedy punctuated with ghastly displays of violence that will elicit shudders and squirming, but not much laughter. It’s a waste of an intriguing concept and some talented performers, even though Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart have great chemistry (carried over from Adventureland).

Directed by Nima Nourizadeh, the writer-director of 2012’s Project X, and written by Max Landis, son of John, the film wants to merge the government conspiracy thriller with the lovers-on-the-run melodrama. It’s a mess, but there are some moments of wit and sincerity.

The cast, including John Leguizamo and Walton Goggins, adds some comic relief as Mike’s drug dealer and CIA handler, Phoebe, respectively. But the movie is too focused on action to satirize, or even comment on, the spy movies it only half heartedly skewers. Even so, the film is still worth a look for its well-matched stars and some decent fight choreography. But it’s easy to see why it hasn’t found an audience beyond festivals.

Topher Grace

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart prove that they can hold their own even in the most cynical, rote studio fare with American Ultra. Director Nima Nourizadeh and screenwriter Max Landis cook up a genre mash that’s mildly amusing until it runs out of steam and reverts to a familiar premise.

The film opens with Mike Howell (Eisenberg) working a dead-end job at a convenience store and plagued by crippling panic attacks. His girlfriend Phoebe (Stewart) dreams of moving away from Liman but Mike is adamant about staying in town, which frustrates her.

Little does she know he is a special agent programmed to eliminate terrorists, whose brainwashing program was shut down by rival Adrian Yates (Topher Grace). CIA handler Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) receives a coded warning that Mike is about to be eliminated as part of a liquidation of old assassination programs and frantically activates him using a series of code words. The action sequences are fast-paced and impressively choreographed.

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