The Summertime High That No One Saw Coming.
Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) is an anxiety-ridden Cash & Carry connivence store clerk that sits around drawing his Apollo Ape comic while getting stoned every chance he gets. His girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) takes care of him and loves him even with his flaws. Her only wish, however, is that some day Mike can beat his anxiety so that they can leave their small hometown. One day, Vanessa Lasseter (Connie Britton) walks into the Cash & Carry and informs Mike that the CIA is coming to destroy him. Confused by this interaction, Mike ignores the warning until two police offers show up and try to kill Mike. This attack activates something inside Mike that turns the once anxiety-ridden stoner into a killing machine.
Weird, bloody, and fun are three words that I would use to best describe American Ultra. I will say it right away that American Ultra is not a film for everyone but at the same time, it is so much more than just a stoner flick. The world that Max Landis creates here isn’t going to have the mainstream appeal of say, Chronicle but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a unique, comedic, and bizarre tale. Ultra isn’t going to work for everyone and I can see some complaining that it lacks plot and explanation. I, however, was more than happy with the basic concept and really appreciated what Landis and Nima Nourizadeh did with it.
With that being said, the best way to go into Ultra is knowing as little about this film as possible. The only things I think you should know prior to seeing the film is that it is not your typical action comedy and it really earns it’s R rating. If you are someone that likes your action comedies bloody, well this one really delivers. I never thought I would see a film where Jesse Eisenberg would kill as many people as he did here, let alone see him do so with dustpans, spoons, and hammers. The violence here is incredibly over the top and in your face. The blood shed in Ultra is on par with what you would expect from an R-rated slasher film or a Quentin Tarantino film.
Alongside all the violence and the CIA story, there is a really good love story to boot. In 2009, Eisenberg and Stewart starred alongside each another in Adventureland, which I still believe is one of the most underrated films of that year. Eisenberg and Stewart had amazing chemistry in that film and that carries over here. In just fifteen minutes, the viewer will be able to connect and relate to Mike and Phoebe in someway. During this timeframe, you get a sense of intimacy and compassion towards them as people. In a strange way during these moments, it almost felt as though I was watching an independent romantic drama. It was incredibly smart that Nourizadeh and Landis make Mike and Phoebe relatable characters that we want to root for right away before the crazy action begins. I was quite shocked but there really is a nice blend of genuine and heartfelt moments throughout the film that really makes it standout from so many other action comedies.
The biggest surprise of American Ultra, however, is just how unique and different it is. I expected a fun and stupid little action comedy but instead, I got an action movie, an action movie parody, a comedy, and a romantic drama all rolled into one. On the surface, this film is just about a small-time stoner with a huge anxiety issue but Max Landis takes that idea and runs with it. He turns Ultra into this smart, funny, and entertaining story about this stoner becoming a superhero. Landis blurs the genres together and somehow it works to create a film that can connect with audiences in several different ways.
Shockingly enough Ultra relies very heavily on its leads while giving the audience just the right amount of story to keep them interested. Mike and Phoebe are characters that the audience can connect with and feel for. They are incredibly likable and fun to spend time with even through they are incredibly flawed. While the supporting cast including Walton Goggins, Tony Hale, Connie Britton, and Topher Grace all bring something to the table with their zany antics, it is Eisenberg and Stewart who own this film.
Just as much as the film relies on its leads, it also relies on its action scenes as well as its moments of sincerity. Its such a smart film because while it mixes all these genres together, it also plays off the cliches of those genres. It really is so rare to watch a film that at its core is both an independent film and a mainstream film. I applaud Nourizadeh for creating that type of feel and that says a lot considering I hated Nourizadeh’s Project X with every bone in my body.
All in all, American Ultra is that high I was looking for all summer. There were very few films this summer that were as fun and entertaining as Ultra is. It was refreshing to see a film that wasn’t afraid to be different yet at the same time managed to still create two characters that I wanted to root for. This was a special treat and a great way to end the summer movie season considering most of this summer was one big budget sequel after another. I am not saying that Ultra is a perfect film but it dared to be different and it gets a lot of points for that, at least in my book.
MovieManMenzel’s final rating for American Ultra is a 8 out of 10.