American Ultra is a 2015 film directed by Nima Nourizadeh and written by Max Landis (son of the great John Landis, who among other things directed the amazing The Blues brothers). The protagonists are Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, and let me add that the movie bombed at the box office. I bought it on DVD some time ago and I just watched it. And why did I do so? Because I knew of the existence of this film since that day in which those crazy RedLetterMedia guys made fun of Max Landis’s complaints on Twitter about the lack of success of his film. Incidentally, the Milwaukee nerds later developed a sort of friendship with the eccentric writer. So I wanted to watch the film to see if it was any good! And is it any good?
Meh. I liked certain things, but I disliked just as many. My judgment is certainly influenced by the fact that I don’t particularly like the two main actors (despite Eisenberg being excellent in Zombieland), and also because I’m not crazy about the excessive use of CGI special effects when the same effects would be a hundred times better if practical. One example: the blood coming out of a gunshot wound was so perfect with those amazing 90s’ blood squibs, like in Total recall!!!
But let’s start from the plot. Mike and Phoebe (Eisenberg and Stewart) are a couple living in a rural area of West Virginia. They spend their time smoking pot and, due to Mike’s panic attacks, they cannot even travel anywhere to see new places and have a bit of fun. Suddenly, due to a change in the FBI hierarchy, we find out that the government wants Mike dead. Why? Soon we understand that, even if he has no memory of it, he’s part of a secret program aimed at creating super agents. From then on, we witness an escalation of events in which Mike manages to survive numerous assassination attempts, also with the help of Phoebe who also turns out to hide a secret…
I think that it’s clear that there are some interesting ideas in this movie. The beginning is intriguing, and Mike’s first plot twist as an unbeatable killer is cool. The problem is that the rest of the film develops in a rather confusing way. There are a few too many unlikely FBI agents who look more like the Bond villains rather than real agents; the plot twist related to Kristen Stewart’s character is forced and not very credible, even within a film that wants to be everything except realistic; and I found the amount of action tiresome, eventually.
Let’s say that it’s not a good sign if after watching the movie I think that the best thing about it is the pun contained in its trailer: “stoned cold killer”. I think that more work on the plot and on the writing of the characters would have been needed to make a good movie starting from the rather simple but fun idea that Max Landis had. As it stands, this film gave me the sensation of not having exploited its full potential. And that’s a shame!
So, do I recommend seeing American Ultra? Yes, I do, because it has a number of curious ideas. But unfortunately I think that it’s a half-wasted opportunity because the final result could have been better with a little more effort. Ciao!