AMERICAN ULTRA Review
Director: Nima Nourizadeh
Genre: Stoner Film, Comedy
I didn’t really know what AMERICAN ULTRA was supposed to be going into it. I still don’t know what it was going for after watching it, and I have to wonder if Max Landis even knew what he was doing when he conceived the script. It’s hard to say exactly where AMERICAN ULTRA goes wrong; it would be safe to blame the braindead writing or direction, the poor casting, or that it aspired to be nothing more than a poor man’s PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. But Landis has gone to great lengths on Twitter in terms of attributing his film’s failure to its originality, so none of those could possibly be the reasons why it is the worst movie of 2015. In reality, there’s just too much wrong with the film to blame any one aspect. One must understand all of what ails ULTRA to even begin to comprehend just how awful it is.
That sphinx shirt is pretty much the highlight of the proceedings
AMERICAN ULTRA follows Mike, a stoner played by the affable Jesse Eisenberg, and his girlfriend Phoebe, played by the equally endearing Kristen Stewart. The movie opens with Eisenberg being interrogated in a cell, with a montage of the carnage that he’s caused. It’s a cliché you’ve seen a hundred times, but rarely executed this poorly. Not only does this spoil that Mike survives the film, but it also gives away every blip of excitement to come. The opening title hasn’t even played and the movie has already taken a nosedive.
Just as confused and displeased as the audience
As it turns out, Mike is a sleeper agent for the CIA who gets reactivated by agency spook Connie Britton when rival agent Topher Grace decides to put a hit on him for no other reason than to supply the film with a villain. Obviously, this entails the government sending a dozen guys in hoodies after Mike and hoping for the best. For the rest of the runtime, Mike goes around blowing up small town West Virginia just trying to survive.
This sucks, and I was in SPIDER-MAN 3!
Or so you would think. Instead, Mike spends most of the movie waxing philosophical and/or arguing with his cardboard cutout girlfriend. This would be a good opportunity to develop him as a character, but we don’t learn anything other than the fact that he’s insecure and full of angst. It’s easy to forget that this is supposed to be about assassins or whatever the Hell it’s going for when the overwhelming amount of filler outweighs the action.
To put it bluntly, ULTRA’s writing is abysmal. To give you an idea of just how flat the jokes fall, the only time anyone laughed in the theater was when a redneck calls Connie Britton a “monkey fucker”. Never in my theater-going experience have I seen a more silent audience. Most of the comedy consists of the stoned ramblings of Eisenberg, who largely just recaps whatever just happened in the scene. I guess it’s a helpful system for blind viewers of AMERICAN ULTRA, but it was miserable enough experiencing most of the movie’s scenes once.
The pinnacle of comedy, as far as AMERICAN ULTRA is concerned
In addition to the plethora of joke explanations, you also get Topher Grace maniacally yelling sexist epithets at every female lead, and Buster Bluth, who doesn’t say anything funny (let alone serve a purpose in the plot), but is implied to be gay, which I can only fathom was intended to be humorous. It’s really sad that it’s 2015 and a movie can still get away with such sub-sophomoric humor
The action sequences are the only really entertaining bits AMERICAN ULTRA has to offer. It’s just too bad you already saw half of them in the intro. The scene where Mike discovers his abilities and kills two goons with a spoon is the first marginally fun moment of the movie. It’s also half an hour into the proceedings and only lasts about twenty seconds.
It should be clarified that the action in this movie isn’t objectively impressive; it’s only in comparison to the rest of the film that these scenes hold any weight. For being elite CIA operatives, most of the mooks Eisenberg kills do nothing but run straight forward, guns blazing. It’s surreal when a summary of a scripted sequence in a Hollywood movie matches the description of the monster AI from DOOM. It does help that we get some bad camerawork to cover up the finer details of the fights, but even then the weaknesses are apparent. If being poorly shot and choreographed wasn’t bad enough, AMERICAN ULTRA also has some of the most embarrassing gunshot audio effects to ever be heard in a major release.
It’s impossible to categorize AMERICAN ULTRA, as it defies genre. It fails at being an action movie as well as a comedy. That it does nothing right is the film’s only achievement. Like the aimless protagonist, AMERICAN ULTRA meanders into nothing and, ultimately, doesn’t have a place in the world. This is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. If you wanted funny iconic films check out some here instead of watching AMERICAN ULTRA.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend