American Ultra (2015) Directed by Nima Nourizadeh. With Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace and Connie Britton.
Project X director, Nima Nourizadeh follows up his study on the partying antics of high school seniors, with an action-comedy/indie-romance about a stoner (Eisenberg) who gets a case of the total recalls (he’s really a deactivated secret agent, Jason Bourney type), when the government (Topher Grace) notices he’s trying to move out of the area and duly serves notice of a hit. The trouble is, he’s too well trained.
Jesse Eisenberg is an intelligent actor whose career has been largely forged on his unlikeliness to succeed, an idea that American Ultra fully throws its weight behind as his nerd-done-good screen persona carries over to a film in which we are asked to to have fun with the idea that can beat up all the bad guys and get the girl of his dreams.
With an undercurrent of romance blended with a post-grunge, early 1990’s aesthetic (Eisenberg, believe it or not, looks a bit like 1988-1991-era Jon Bon Jovi), the film seems to want to echo the lofty heights of indie cool achieved by Tony Scott’s True Romance, all the while patting that idea down with regular bouts of silliness. Eisenberg plays well with Kristen Stewart (they have previous together in Adventureland), as they quickly go from cuddling on the couch to ducking automatic gunfire.
The script by Max Landis boasts a plethora of droll dialogue, and the action, when it comes, is surprisingly well-staged (one supermarket set piece stands out), but the film becomes annoying whenever Topher Grace’s inexplicably angry (and overacted) CIA head honcho appears. Moreover, given the switches of tone between the cool indie kids and the nasty government, to the whack-a-day comic thrills and spills, the overarching ‘plot’ starts to get dull long before the inevitable and entirely predictable conclusion.
Like its two central characters, there’s a sense that American Ultra wants desperately to be embraced by a young audience in the mould of a quirky indie alt-comedy, which is at home smoking behind the bike-sheds with the cool kids. The problem is, you can’t buy that kind of cult appeal, even with ‘cool indie kids‘ Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg in headline slots. At best, throwaway fun. 3/5