Let’s get it out the way. American Ultra is an ultra dumb, ultra violent stoner comedy Lionsgate is throwing against the wall to see if it sticks at the box office in the dog days of August. But as I say in my video review (click the link above), it does have a real saving grace. Star Jesse Eisenberg’s performance rescues the whole thing as a paranoid stoner who unbeknownst to him has been possessed with the powers of an elite super killer. Watching him go through the motions of playing a guy who smokes dope a lot and can’t bring himself to leave his own little small town, but who doesn’t know why suddenly he is the object of a major hunt by CIA agents and others, is a pure delight for fans of this fine actor.
Eisenberg really gets to show off his comedic talents here in what is otherwise a frenetic, typically ludicrous, blood-soaked action comedy that really amounts to one big long chase. Kristen Stewart, also quite good here, plays Phoebe, the girlfriend of Eisenberg’s Mike Howell. All they really want to do is smoke dope and take a trip to Hawaii for which they even have the tickets. However, Mike’s own insecurities keeps him from even fulfilling that dream. Instead, one night during his job at the local Cash And Carry (where he also writes his graphic novel about a superhero monkey), he winds up inadvertently killing two guys, one by using a spoon. This naturally freaks him out.
It is soon easily explained that CIA agent Lasseter (Connie Britton), who has always watched over him, has activated his powers, secretive until then, and turned Mike into a lethal killing machine. It seems he was part of a top classified experiment in which the agency created a sleeper cell assassin and Mike was the only one who really passed the test. The problem is he has zero knowledge or memory of any of this. Another rogue agent played by Topher Grace thinks he is a complete disaster and has a far more sinister rival program also designed to create an elite group of super assassins. He sets events in motion to have Mike killed which, considering the powers and killer talent Mike has, is no easy task.
It all goes on — and on — from there as director Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) and writer Max Landis cook up one imposing scrape after another for Mike and Phoebe. Particularly vicious is a psychopath assigned to off him, played to the hilt by Justified’s Walton Goggins. The rest of the cast includes an amusing John Leguizamo as Mike’s drug dealer friend, and a straight-laced Bill Pullman.
The pace is non-stop as you might expect for this Bourne-like comedy takeoff, but it is Eisneberg’s show all the way and he delivers Landis’ rat-a-tat dialogue in style. Once I settled into the rhythms of Eisenberg’s performance I have to say laughed at everything he said, even though I wasn’t sure why — and I swear I wasn’t smoking anything at the press screening. Producers are Anthony Bregman, Kevin Frakes, Raj Brinder Singh, David Alpert and Britton Rizzio. Lionsgate will release the film Friday.
Do you plan to see American Ultra? Let us know what you think.