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American Ultra

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart star in American Ultra (Image  ©  Lionsgate). 

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart star in American Ultra (Image © Lionsgate). 

I still remember a friend of mine being incredibly angry when he saw Adventureland for the first time.  The trailers made him interested in the film.  The word-of-mouth from a lot of other friends made him feel like he was missing out on some sort of event.  So of course he got his hands on the DVD and...has never been so angry at a film either before or since.  According to him it was pitched as a comedy.  Everyone else treated it like a comedy.

For those of you who have seen Adventureland, you’ll know that it could kindly be referred to as a ‘black comedy.’  No, it’s not a bad movie but it definitely wasn’t a comedy. Now here we are six years later.  American Ultra is hitting theaters.  Just like Adventureland it stars Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart.  And just like their first film together, the trailers are a lie.

Jesse Eisenberg is Mike Howell, a stoner living in a tiny West Virginia town.  He’s got a crappy job at a quick mart/grocery store, smokes a lot of weed, has tons of anxiety problems and can’t even leave town without suffering from debilitating panic attacks.  The only good thing in his life is Phoebe Larson (Kristen Stewart), the woman he loves and the girl he lives with.  He really wants to do right by her but can’t seem to stop from being, well, not a bad boyfriend but definitely an unreliable one.

His life is is stuck in a rut of drugs and work to the point that his best friend is his drug dealer Rose (John Leguizamo) and the cops know him by name.  In fact, they regularly arrest him for marijuana possession to the point that the cops joke that he should keep a toothbrush at the station.

Then one day a strange woman walks into the store and says a weird, nonsensical phrase that unlocks something within him.  Suddenly, Mike can react to dangerous situations with the poise and skill of a trained killer.  But why?

Well it turns out that for some reason, someone wants him dead.  That someone is Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) and the strange woman, Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) doesn’t want to see Adrian succeed or Mike die.

What follows is a whole lot of chaos. Mike is forced to fight his way through a battery of trained killers as he tries desperately tries to unlock his past in an attempt to figure out why he suddenly had all these murderous abilities.

Simply put, this movie is bloody and violent.  In many ways it’s similar to last year’s The Interview, with every moment of violence punctuated with more blood than should be expected yet with a very realistic sheen over everything.

Unlike The Interview the funny moments are lightly interspersed throughout the movie.  Yes there are some hilarious moments in American Ultra.  But they’re highlights of the movie and not the norm.  

When I first saw the trailers I thought I was getting something that was going to spoof action thrillers like The Bourne Identity, movies that starred an unstoppable agent who had no idea how they got their skills.  I was genuinely excited, hoping this would be the American answer to how Kingsman: The Secret Service so successfully spoofed secret agent films while still retaining everything that made them work.

I thought wrong.  American Ultra is just another movie about an unstoppable agent with a mysterious past.  It does take a humorous look at the genre but ultimately nothing new is added.  While I was impressed with the acting, especially from Eisenberg and Stewart, maybe they should stop making movies together.  At least until Hollywood figures out how to properly advertise their work.