Weed. Noodles. Lex Luthor. Exploding cars. Weed. Spoon fights. Hammers. Weed. The CIA. Grenades. Huell from Breaking Bad. Weed. Teddy bears. Weed. An astronaut monkey. More weed. American Ultra has a lot of things going on, that's for sure, especially when you consider that the actual film is only an hour and half long. You may not recognise the name Max Landis at this stage in time, but give him a year or two and we'll all be anticipating his next release. I know I already am.
American Ultra follows the story of two stoners, Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) and Phoebe (Kristen Stewart). Mike works at the local convenience store and spends his free time smoking weed or doodling the adventures of a comic book character he's come up with. On a seemingly uneventful night, he's visited by a member of government, Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton), who makes an attempt at "activating him." It doesn't appear to work at first, but after two thugs try to blow up his car, his hidden secret agent skills are activated and he kicks some ass. Using soup, a spoon and, eventually, a gun, he kills them both, starting up a series of frantic events involving everything listed in the first paragraph. It's one chaotic movie and it's a lot of fun.
American Ultra is writer Max Landis' follow up to 2012's Chronicle, and director Nima Nourizadeh's follow up to 2012's Project X. While I haven't seen Project X, I did see Chronicle multiple times, and wow, these are two completely different movies. On the one hand, we have a dark and gritty found footage horror film, and then on the other, there's a stoner action/romantic comedy. They both work so well for different reasons, making Max Landis a name to be on the alert for. His upcoming film, Victor Frankenstein, looks promising. After seeing this, I can only hope for the best, and I'm starting to expect the best as well.
As we travel down the rabbit hole, we're provided with a much deeper film than one would expect. It's not trying to say an awful lot, nor is it trying to win any Oscars, but it's got a surprising amount of heart to it, managing to create some extra stakes when it comes to the more intense action sequences. There's a solid relationship built up between Eisenberg and Stewart, and as the film begins to unfold itself, this relationship is given more layers than you'd predict. The film manages to become more than just your average stoner romp. It's no Inherent Vice, but it's fun.
Jesse Eisenberg, who's rocking a greasier, darker version of the hair-do we'll see him in in Batman V Superman, completely blew me away. Much like in his many previous comedies, he plays the bumbling awkward guy who ends up being the best character in the entire movie. His character goes from being a stoner to being Jason Bourne on steroids and the transformation is incredibly entertaining to watch, full of blood, guts and gore, and even a little bit of weed here and there. There's a scene where he starts crying over a tree and it's one of the most simultaneously heartfelt and hilarious scenes in the entire movie.
That being said, this does result in more than a few tonal shifts. While each of the individual scenes plays out excellently, as a whole they're a bit everywhere. There's action, there's romance and there's comedy, and while it can from time to time play off smoothy, it can also create a few bumps in the road, especially when the comedy aspect drops the ball a little bit. These many tonal shifts, unfortunately, lower the overall energy of the film, but by the time the third act comes around the film is just balls to the wall crazy and it's a blast.
To sum up, American Ultra is a fun stoner romp that unevenly tries to balance out comedy, romance and action. The result is one hell of a good time, but the few bumps get in the way of the constant energy. Jesse Eisenberg kills someone with a spoon though, so that was amazing.
3 1/2 Stars