Cinema Review: American Ultra | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, February 25th, 2020  

American Ultra

Studio: Lionsgate
Directed by Nima Nourizadeh

Aug 21, 2015 Web Exclusive
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A crappy car, a crappy convenience store job, and panic attacks every time he tries to leave his crappy small town. The only good thing stoner Mike Howell has going for him is his patient, loving girlfriend, Phoebe. As he struggles to work up the courage to propose, his simple life and plans go awry when he discovers that he’s a sleeper assassin that the government has decided they no longer need.

It’s a shame that it’s no longer fashionable for actor/actress pairings to make a string of movies together after mistry. While they're not quite Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, Jessie Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart–-reunited in American Ultra after being previously paired in 2009’s charming teen dramedy Adventureland–-definitely play to each other’s strengths. As Mike, Eisenberg employs his usual Woody Allen-by-way-of-Michael Cera routine to amusing effect as an affable stoner whose buzz is severely harshed by the fact that he’s secretly a killing machine. As Phoebe, Stewart seems to be poking fun at the criticisms of her vacant-eyed, lip-biting Twilight persona, keeping the character as dazed and confused as Mike, while simultaneously playing her as the competent straight man. Their scenes together as they try to evade the police and various assassins are the film's strongest, and their inevitable separation at the end of the second act comes as a major disappointment.

The rest of the film strikes less of a balance. Splitting its time between stoner comedy, violent spy action and indie romance, American Ultra executes its varying aspects well but never successfully synthesizes them into a singular vision. Certain performances are calibrated too high–-Topher Grace as the yuppie CIA villain is never not annoying–-while others are calibrated too low-–Connie Britton as the handler trying to assist Mike feels closer to a character in a Bourne movie rather than a character in a film spoofing a Bourne movie–-and the parts of film that leave Mike and Phoebe behind never feel like much more than plot levers moving. The action is competently staged and hilariously violent, but the film shines in the aftermath of those sequences, when the characters are just trying to figure out what the hell is going on.

Author rating: 6.5/10

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