I will admit that I was very skeptical going into the screening of this film. Nay, I was downright positive that I would not like it. After all, I’m not a huge Kristen Stewart fan nor am I that big on Jesse Eisenberg for that matter. So perhaps it was my low expectations or maybe it was simply the fact that the film delivered firmly on all fronts, but I ended up sincerely enjoying ‘American Ultra.’
The movie starts off with Jesse Eisenberg’s character, Mike, scarred, blood-soaked and in chains at a local law enforcement facility. He then flashes back to the beginning of the trouble when he and his girlfriend Phoebe (played by Kristen Stewart) are trying to leave town for a Hawaiian vacation, but Mike can’t seem to leave due to a panic attack. It starts out seemingly like a run-of-the-mill, stoner / star-crossed lovers movie for the first 10 minutes or so. Then, it takes a turn. Victoria Lasseter of the CIA (played by Connie Britton) had trained Mike as an experimental government asset (Operation: Wiseman) but when the program proved to cause psychosis in the subjects, she terminated the experiment and wiped the memory of the project from Mike’s brain. He was then given a new identity and ended up living with his CIA handler who fell in love with him (aka: Phoebe).
Young upstart agent Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) takes it upon himself to eliminate Mike to show that his new experimental program is superior to Operation: Wiseman and also to curry favor with his superiors. Lassiter gets to Mike first and “activates” him using a key phrase to trigger his programming. Action and hilarity ensue as Mike begins to realize exactly what he is and what he can do. In a series of ‘Chuck’ like flashes, Mike cuts a swath through the lethally trained assassins sent to kill him by Yates and the CIA. This whirlwind of madness is backed by perfectly delivered performances from both Tony Hale as Lassiter’s CIA associate and John Leguizamo as Mike’s dealer.
One of the things that made me like this movie was that it reminded me a little of ‘From Dusk Til Dawn‘ in that it starts out as one kind of movie and then it quickly becomes something different. I also had just completed rewatching the aforementioned ‘Chuck‘ on Netflix so it did also remind me of that a bit with Mike “flashing” every time he was threatened (If you don’t know the reference, go watch ‘Chuck’. You’re welcome.) While I do think the movie had great action scenes, a decent amount of comedy and some nice “feel good” moments, it’s hard to say that it did any of them exceptionally well. It was almost as if there was no firm consensus on what type of movie it should be and so it tried being a few different ones. But then again, is that part of what made the film so enjoyable? Is the slightly all-over-the-road feel that the movie had intentional to go along with the underlying marijuana theme? If so, then Bravo! Job well done! At the end of the day, there is one thing for certain: ‘American Ultra’ is STILL a better love story than ‘Twilight.’