It’s usually a pretty big indicator that you’re movie isn’t going to be the best when it has a release date for the end of August. These movies tend to be bland action movies that hope to rake in a few dollars, but they usually fail to recoup the budget. American Ultra is one of these movies—a stoner action flick that tries its hardest to be original, but in the end is a poor mash-up of Natural Born Killers, Pineapple Express, and The Bourne Identity that never lives up to its promises or comes into its own.
Jessie Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, who have already starred together in Adventureland, reunite as Mike and Phoebe, a pot-smoking couple who find themselves in danger after Mike (who is secretly a sleeper agent) is activated and the government decides they want him dead. Eisenberg and Stewart are the highlights of the film; without them it would amount to nothing.
Mike, whose immaturity and dependence on weed lands him in hot water with Phoebe, especially after suffering panic attacks while trying to leave their small town in North Carolina, is basically a mixture of Jason Bourne and James Franco’s character in Pineapple Express. He isn’t the smartest, he works a dead-end job, and yet he is actually a government trained agent who has the ability to kill mercilessly.
Eisenberg does a solid job at the role, which thankfully saves the film from being a total wash, but the character itself does not ever change, making it especially frustrating. Stewart is the one we need to pity. She simply wants to get married, go on vacations, and to not be potheads all the time. Her patience with Mike is burning its last bit, but she stays because of how much she loves him. Together, the two make for an engaging and funny duo, and thankfully they share so much chemistry or else a lot of the “poignant” moments in this drugged-up, bloody mess—would not have any weight behind them.
At times American Ultra seems to be trying to hard to be original and “out there.” In many ways the film seems to have been written sober with the hopes of it feeling like it was written while high on Mike and Phoebe’s favorite drug. The end result is unfunny black-lit fight scenes, over-the-top characters that get no development, and violence that play to shock value and gore more than to comedy and innovation.
American Ultra goes up in smoke within the first few minutes, and a lot of the supposedly funny moments are simply too bizarre and philosophical for them to make you laugh. If it wasn’t for Eisenberg’s and Stewart’s chemistry, the film would be a complete disaster since they are backed up by such a hodge-podge group of actors and actresses (Tony Hale, Connie Britton, Topher Grace, Bill Pullman, and John Leguizamo) that seem to have been the only people available—or desperate enough—to take on this failed attempt to be the new Pineapple Express. You’d be better off to just rewatch that than this, it’s a lot more funny and original.