I’m not quite sure where the hatred comes for American Ultra. Unfairly on Rotten Tomatoes it holds a 44% rating, and it has been almost universally panned by the critics. They cite that is suffers from an “identity crisis”, and that it can’t decide what genre it wants to be, as if that is a bad thing. The need to pigeonhole a film into a particular genre must limit the ability to enjoy a film immensely, and I would argue that more variety, as seen here in American Ultra, is needed in modern cinema if we are to truly get away from the reboots and franchises. It might not always work, but the different identities that American Ultra possesses seem to tie together seamlessly to create this crazy, messed up story.
Jesse Eisenberg stars as a bummed out but content stoner kid, Mike, who lives out his dull existence in “Nowheresville”, USA. He spends his time between working in a convenience store, and inadvertently making his girlfriend Phoebe’s (Kristen Stewart) life ten times harder than it needs to be. Granted, right now the film does not sound like a lot. One guy, smoking weed and chilling with his girlfriend who appears to be too good for him. However, their relationship is the foundation for this movie, and no matter how stupid and comical it gets later on, their love for each other is what underpins everything. What lurks around the corner of their ‘blissful’ relationship, is essentially the only real twist that American Ultra has to offer, one that every review and the trailer itself loves to give away.
I understand that you must give some of the plot away in order to gets bums on seats in the cinemas, but this is a film best left unexplored until you finally watch it. It escalates far beyond that of stoner comedy, both in terms of content and the complete shift in tone you experience about a third of the way through. American Ultra doesn’t waste much time in letting you know what the real deal is, and as it moves into a somewhat violent second half, it maintains its dark brand of mumbly humour, not centred around weed jokes and nonsense, but around sheer confusion.
American Ultra steps away from the standard traps of just making the lead characters say “omg i’m so high” and do stupid shit, it actually gives them a backstory and a reason to behave the way they do. It might be completely implausible, unbelievable and outright insane at times, but I’m fairly confident that was the point. Each person Mike encounters are essentially over-exaggerated versions of themselves, and I wouldn’t have expected anything less in this highly excitable albeit ridiculous story.
This is not the best film ever made, but it didn’t set out to be. It packs a lot into its short run time and while nobody really shines in any particular role, there are some really memorable scenes executed with some fairly impressive CGI. It’s a crazy ride, and if you ignore the negativity and the spoilers, watch with an open mind for some openly mindless fun, then this action-comedy-thriller-romance might surprise you.
It surprised me, and I think once the dust has settled it might pick up somewhat of a cult following, and those that bashed it previously, might return to this movie and hopefully not take it so seriously.