“I am spooky quiet.”
*= terrible pot puns/references meant to make a dreary review on a lousy film a little more bearable. Enjoy.
Let’s just get this out there to start; American Ultra is not a good movie. In fact, I found it incompetent, a horrible rendering of a possibly bubbling high* of a story. The main thing you expect from a film openly marketing marijuana use and stoner culture is a laugh. A chuckle and a glazed* over smile. But this movie isn’t funny. It has no idea how to handle the comedy, and as a result has no tone. Seriously, see this movie and I beg you to answer the following question. In 10 words or less, what is American Ultra? “Well, it’s a comedy and…wait, how many words?” Action comedies are supposed to make us long for the excitement while we howl and rock back and forth in our leather seats. I, however, left the theater unamused, thankful that I could put a sentence together without a stammer. This is the opposite of dank or dope*. American Ultra is bongwater*.
Jesse Eisenberg stars as Mike, a convenience store clerk who smokes so much he might as well have a medical card for glaucoma*. He dates Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), the brains of the couple, who works as a bail bonds receptionist. Mike tokes*, writes stories about the adventures of a space ape, and wants to propose to his lady. They love each other, and for me, the only good part of the movie was the chemistry between the two leads. This is no Adventureland in terms of quality, but it’s clear these two people, in real life, have a human connection which translates to the screen. Eisenberg and Stewart both effortlessly let down their guards. American Ultra doesn’t utilize that relationship enough, but nevertheless, it’s a faint ember in an otherwise cashed joint*.
Nima Nourizadeh directs the story without grace or an established style. I can’t place much fault on the script, working off of Max Landis, a writer who really knows his stuff yet writes indulgently. But as done here, the treatment never translates to the final product. We get Eisenberg in an incredibly annoying, unrestrained and timorous performance. Topher Grace plays the bad guy because obviously everyone is afraid of Topher Grace’s snarky eyes…he’s not bad, but he could still pass for a first year Slytherin. American Ultra tries to be a modern Tarzan. An ape with a handler. A beast and his Jane. The thematic elements are established early, and then passed around like the dutchie on the left hand side* again and again. Smart movies allow us to infer. Stupid films hotbox* us with mids* until we cannot move, can’t think straight, until no amount of Visine will expel the reverberating echoes of Ben Stein in the chambers of our ears. For dry eyes………
The film has the story of True Romance, the slo-mo and gratuitously violent action of Zombieland, and the production value of a Broken Lizard film (the house responsible for Super Troopers, Beerfest, etc.) However, I said incompetent above because the directing and editing disobeys one of comedy’s most quintessential laws. There is the joke, the pause, and the reaction. It could take place in a two-shot, maybe even one, and sometimes unfold in a matter of seconds. That formula is ditched, in this case, for half-baked* results. The humor never hits. I heard one guy in my theater who laughed, and when I looked to see who it was, I let out my own lone chuckle. He stood before me in line earlier, trying to swindle a teenager behind the counter into giving him a special deal on popcorn. “They definitely said it was okay last time,” the pimpled prick spoke. Like him, standing beside his lady friend who never uttered a word, American Ultra is awkward and chronically* cheap.
“How the f*** am I supposed to read this?”
Rating: 1.5 out of 5