“American Ultra” is the latest in a long line of movies which suffers from the “Pulp Fiction” syndrome: the attempt to mix quirky characters, sarcastic comedy and very graphic violence into one wild, cinematic experience. No one’s been able to successfully pull it off since Tarantino over 20-years ago (including Tarantino himself). The result this time is an absolute mess.
Jesse Eisenberg stars as Mike. He works at a small town convenience store and has a longtime girlfriend Phoebe (played by Kristen Stewart). They were supposed to go to on vacation to Hawaii, where Mike was finally going to propose. But that gets put on hold when Mike has one of his violent panic attacks just before getting on the plane.
A few nights later back at the store, a mysterious woman enters and warns Mike that he is in serious danger. A few minutes later he notices two men messing with his car in the parking lot, and suddenly, he has the strength and abilities to not only beat them up but actually kill them. Mike has no idea how or why this happened, but the CIA does. Turns-out Mike was once an experimental agent, and now he needs to be eliminated. If only someone at Lionsgate felt the same way about this film before it made it to theaters.
“American Ultra” is one of the most unfocused and discombobulated films in recent memory. The plot never makes complete sense, with holes in common sense and logic everywhere. The concept of an ex-agent, now in the real world, becoming a target is so unoriginal that for it to work there has to be a unique spin – and here there is not. The “stoner” element, pushed in the ads and the trailers, doesn’t even apply in the actual movie.
The acting is so ridiculous I don’t know where to begin. There’s no chemistry between Stewart and Eisenberg, whose Mike – a combination of dumb, naïve, and high – just doesn’t work. And the two are laughable together in the “dramatic” moments. Connie Britton (from TV’s “Nashville”) is miscast as Mike’s former CIA boss. John Leguizamo is completely unfunny as Mike’s drug dealer. The Emmy-winning co-star of “Veep”, Tony Hale, adds nothing as a goofy agent. But worst of all are Topher Grace, who plays the weird and wacky CIA operations head – and Walton Goggins (“Justified”), as “Agent Laugher”. They give two of the most embarrassing on-screen performances in recent years.
And then there’s the style: One minute “Ultra” tries to be cute and clever with Mike’s “Space Ape” comic book drawings – seconds later he’s slicing someone’s head off with a dust pan. Shocking? A little. Effective in helping make this a quality film? No. In fact nothing here works. Even the only “twist”, which is hardly unique, comes way too early and has no impact.
I didn’t like a single scene or element in this entire film. Just another example of a studio burying a bomb at the end of August. On The Official LCJ Report Card, “American Ultra” gets an F.
Running Time: 96 min.