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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Monday, May 23, 2016

Movie Review - American Ultra

American Ultra (2015)
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo, Tony Hale, and Bill Pullman
Directed by Nima Nourizadeh

I recorded American Ultra on the DVR during a free preview weekend of some pay cable network and before watching it, I deleted it.  Did I really wanna watch a movie whose main character is a stoner pot smoker?  In the opening minutes, Jesse Eisenberg's Mike Howell and Kristen Stewart's Phoebe Larson must've lit up at least five times.  Longtime blog readers know that I'm not a huge fan of drugs mixing with comedy -- I just feel it's an easy, cheap way to elicit laughs -- so I actually deleted the film.  For some reason, though, I decided to restore it to my DVR and give it a go -- and I'm glad I did.  American Ultra isn't going to set the world on fire, but its ultra-violent premise yielded enough laughs (in a non-drug-centric manner) and a clever, well-acted story that I found myself pleasantly surprised.

Mike is a convenience store clerk who, when not smoking pot, spends his free time hanging out with his girlfriend Phoebe and writing a comic book about a heroic ape.  One evening, Mike is approached at the store by a strange although very put-together and sophisticated woman (Connie Britton) who begins babbling some nonsensical words to him.  Mike shrugs off the exchange, but minutes later when he's jumped by two guys, Mike goes into violent beast mode, attacking and killing the duo with ease.  Mike slowly begins to realize that he may have been programmed by the government to commit such crimes and now that he's been "activated," some government officials may want him dead.

Moving along at a rather rapid clip, American Ultra smartly doesn't overstay its welcome because its entire story is essentially summed up in that aforementioned paragraph.  Without a huge amount of plot, we're instead treated to incredibly violent set pieces that are played for laughs -- a tricky balance to achieve, but executed successfully for the most part by relative newcomer director Nima Nourizadeh.  Tarantino-level in their graphicness, the violence is undoubtedly over-the-top and at times unbelievable, but the film is able to cleverly get the audience to embrace the insanity because the flick's main character can't believe what he's seeing either.  Stoner Mike's expert combat techniques are just as incomprehensible to him as they are to us in the audience so that surprisingly immediately connects us to the character and allows us to "accept" the elevated violence because we're on the same page as Mike.

Eisenberg and Stewart are a nice match for one another, although neither lights the world on fire here.  They're both a bit too monotone throughout for my liking, but that's really their acting style most of the time, I've always felt.  The supporting cast of Connie Britton and Topher Grace as CIA agents respectively for and against Mike are enjoyable, bringing some additional laughs to the flick.  My review may be slightly overpraising American Ultra which is by no means exceptional, but it was a bit of a surprise for me.  Certainly not for everyone, the flick is much better than I ever expected.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

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