American Ultra

American Ultra is a sweet tender puppy that becomes Cujo the raging killer dog. It’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) meets Jason Bourne with the ultra-violent tactics of The Raid: Redemption (2011). 

With the recent slew of spy films, this is a refreshing humorous comic book take on the military sleeper agent experiment gone rogue film. A Cohen Brothers Raising Arizona (1987) inspired take on secret agent films.

It’s a hilarious and unexpectedly touching love story about a young pot smoking couple, Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) and Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) who are trying to make their relationship work despite the personal issues that threaten to keep them from maturing and fulfilling their dreams. 

Mike is an imaginative nerdy timid guy who leads a mundane dull existence while living out his fantasies through his drawings of a comic ape astronaut superhero called Apollo Ape. His girlfriend encourages him to come out of his shell and wants him to succeed at something he loves doing.

But Mike struggles with a panic disorder that prevents him from traveling outside of his small town existence. Wanting more for himself and Phoebe he decides to take her on a trip to Hawaii but is unable to go through with it when he has a panic attack at the airport.

He wants to make it up to her by proposing marriage but can’t decide on the right moment because, unknown to him, he suddenly becomes the target of a top secret government operation to eliminate him from existence.

American Ultra is destined to be a cult classic with moments of delicate romance and reflection punctuated by sudden absurdly funny action and violence. Throughout the mayhem the film never loses sight of the couples’ relationship problems. 

We are treated to typical arguments between two people who love each other and we want to see their relationship succeed against seemingly overwhelming odds, when Mike’s alter-ego is activated by a hypnotic password he receives from a customer in the store where he works.

The film is done in a way that feels perfectly logical, as if this could happen to anyone and Mike has no idea what is happening to him or why. As the bad guys relentlessly come after him, the humor never lets up as the crisis explodes around them. 

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are brilliantly funny and convincing, playing it totally straight as the confused couple at the center of the storm while the supporting cast of John Leguizamo, Topher Grace and Tony Hill are enjoyable to watch in their over-the-top performances.

Some of The Raid: Redemption inspired graphic violence using everyday household items as weapons adds to the bizarre hilarity of the situations and keeps us on the edge of our seats. The cast and the filmmakers were clearly having a great time making this film and it shows.

This is a fun action packed movie if you don’t take your spy films too seriously and would make a great double bill with Raising Arizona, with which it shares many comic elements.



Shiran said...

I was put off by the ratings on Rotten Tomato. Since I read this excellent review, now I am looking forward to seeing it.

JP said...

Yes I was also surprised by the RT rating. I think the critics were too harsh on this film. It seems they were expecting something more serious and were not amused by the skillful blending of tender romance, stoner comedy, spy thriller and inventive fighting action using mundane objects at hand.