American Ultra has surely got to be the worst — or the least — promoted film with “name stars” to be released this year. Despite a cast featuring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman, among others, I didn’t even see one trailer or poster for the film until just a couple of days before I watched it.
That’s very strange, because apart from the stars, American Ultra can also be considered a fringe superhero film, and we all know how popular that genre is these days.
And so I thought American Ultra must suck pretty bad to receive this kind of silent treatment from the studio and fans alike. In reality, it’s nowhere near bad. It’s not even bad. It’s just not as good as it should have been.
The premise goes like this: Jesse Eisenberg plays Mike, a stoner who works at a convenience store, and Kristen Stewart is Phoebe, his girlfriend. His life is blissfully banal until one night, Mike discovers that he’s basically Jason Bourne, and so begins a night of crazy mayhem as the young couple is hunted down by lethal assassins.
I know what you’re thinking — American Ultra is based on a comic book, right? I thought so too, but it’s not. It’s just a movie that feels like it is. I have a feeling the film was aiming for that Kick-Ass vibe — stylish, unexpectedly and brutally violent, somewhat tongue-in-cheek and way over the top.
However, American Ultra is just a class or two below Kick-Ass in just about every category. It doesn’t have that same exuberance, sense of fun or confidence. The action is also nowhere near as stylised. And most of all, despite being called an action-comedy, the film is surprisingly light on the comedy, with nary a laugh to be found throughout the 96-minute running time.
You might disagree, though for me it makes sense after discovering that the director of the film is Nima Nourizadeh, the Iranian-British dude who made Project X, one of my most loathed films in recent years. I just found that film stupid, obnoxious and unfunny. American Ultra is a lot better, of course, but I still feel like it was a waste of a huge opportunity because of the intriguing potential of the premise.
The performances are not the problem. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are fairly good in their roles, and John Leguizamo always brings some extra pizzazz to every movie. Topher Grace, however, seems like he’s trying a little too hard to be the archetypal cardboard villain. Maybe it’s way of protesting such a one-dimensional role.
On the whole, my opinion of American Ultra is lukewarm. It doesn’t quite deserve the box office failure it has experienced (barely scraping back half of its US$28 million budget), though it probably deserves its fate of becoming one of those movies that barely rings a bell in a few years.
2.75 stars out of 5