Director Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) provides an odd but unexpectedly delightful film in the form of American Ultra. He masterfully executes Max Landis’ (Chronicle) slightly jumbled script, making it a cohesive and enjoyable story. When you consider his previous feature film experience being limited to one, you truly feel in awe of this achievement.
Stoners Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) and Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) embark on one crazy night filled with murder and mystery as they are chased by a special secret branch of the Government. Having no idea why he is so important or how he can suddenly do incredible things, Mike enlists the help of the wacky locals creating carnage wherever he flees.
American Ultra begins with the end of the plot; using voiceover Mike to tell us how it all started and proceeds to show us what happened through flashbacks. With flashbacks being common place and a potentially confusing story structure it would not be surprising for a film to become a jumbled set of sequences leaving the audience confused and dissatisfied. However, by setting the events in one night, flashbacks becomes easy to understand and add a refreshing twist to the action comedy genre. The opening creates a sense of intrigue and suspense as it partially reveals the ending which is almost absurd. This makes you very curious as to how these characters got to this point and even who they are.
The film possesses many elements of tongue-in-cheek comedy which are established early in the story, making it easier for you to suspend your belief and trust it will be worthwhile. Though it’s not a laugh out loud comedy it is still very funny in places. The humour comes more from the absurdity of the situations and how the characters deal with them rather than the dialogue, though there are a few witty one-liners scattered throughout. Though odd, Landis’ clever script is full of many incidents that fuel each other, and so the craziness grows and builds to almost wild proportions but still sticks in the realms of acceptable, with many twists and turns to keep you on your toes.
American Ultra is a visual spectacle with its many action sequences. Though they take a slightly different approach, using weapons you would never expect (including a wonderfully funny fight involving a spoon) they are executed effortlessly, absorbing you completely with a truly epic finale. Having the action sequences set in everyday places lifts the entire film and provides so many fresh new takes compared to the slightly tiresome and repetitive nature of other blockbusters. As for the fights, they are very brutal but remain grounded with the choreography including the already mentioned everyday objects and realistic fight sequences. This helps stop the film from crossing the line and becoming unbelievable.
Another bonus is the soundtrack, featuring artists such as The Chemical Brothers and The Pentagons. Instead of using composed music throughout, the soundtrack makes use of rock songs at key moments and for every action sequence, thus giving the film a grittier feel. This elevates the film to the next level and evokes passion in the audience as the sequence becomes much more epic.
Not only is the film technically very good but so are the performances, with Eisenberg and Stewart pairing up for the first time since Adventureland. Jesse Eisenberg, though popular, is not known for his range of roles, having played almost identical characters before. Here, he does something similar but adding more layers and nuances to his character. Mike has emotional range and we finally get to see Eisenberg challenged and digging a little deeper. He also kicks a lot of ass! The same can be said for Kristen Stewart. Though not quite as believable as Eisenberg, she delivers with great comic timing and has a few great moments. The love story is on point, as they both have chemistry and connect well together. Though young characters there is a depth to their emotions and you can see the logic in their decisions regarding one another.
With John Leguizamo (Ice Age, The Kill Point) in the supporting cast you need to expect to be out shone. Leguizamo lets go and becomes the gullible eccentric drug dealer providing the comedy and eventually becoming the antagonist to Mike, whom he counts as a friend. Though not in it very much, he leaves an impression and you find yourself chuckling at his character hours after the film has ended. The remaining supporting cast is rounded out with Topher Grace (That 70’s Show, Interstellar), Connie Britton (Nashville) and Bill Pullman (Independence Day) who play their parts flawlessly.
American Ultra is an overwhelming experience that will leave you feeling happy about being confused.
American Ultra was released in the UK on 4th September.