Film Review: American Ultra

American Ultra - Header

I’ve never seen a Twilight film but I really like Kristen Stewart. Still Alice, Clouds of Sils Maria, On the Road and The Cake Eaters providing more than enough proof that her name alone will draw me to a film, even if I don’t always like the end product. Whilst my relationship with Jesse Eisenberg is similar but more strained. I regularly convince myself that he’s better than he is. I’ll sit through Night Moves, Now You See Me, The Social Network, Zombieland or The Squid And The Whale expecting more than he delivers. Somehow pretending to myself that he’s better than he is, that no matter how good or bad his previous films, that this time, he’ll have learnt how to act.

So, placing Stewart and Eisenberg together would always grab my attention. They previously starred in Adventureland, which I actually enjoyed (even if Eisenberg was true to poor form and Stewart a bit to Hollywood A-Lister) but even without their natural draw, for me, the trailer alone was enough to suggest that American Ultra could have something about it. That it was a film worthy going to see. It just looked a fun and novel spin on the political spy thriller, with a cast you wouldn’t naturally expect to see tackling those roles.

Cast - American Ultra

I need to say though that the first and most annoying thing is just how much of the film the trailer gives away. It could be that the film doesn’t really take many chances, or really go into much depth, but most of the action sequences and plot direction is given away in those two previewing minutes. In fact, because the trailer is so revealing I’ve actually decided not to put it at the top of this review! Part of me wants to believe that American Ultra doesn’t quite believe in itself enough to hold back it’s explosive sequences rather than, simply because it is the only way it felt it could get you through the door.

But because you’ve seen the major elements, comedic moments and grand explosions before, you start to look further into the film for sustenance and sadly it doesn’t take long to realise there really isn’t any. The story is extremely shallow. Nothing is ever really explained and worst still, the tone of the film is just completely wrong. It takes a perfectly acceptable pair of characters (played by Stewart and Eisenberg) and torments them with a character, played by Topher Grace, who is so smarmy and smug and implausibly parodic that he cannot possibly be real. He couldn’t look more out of place or wrong if they dressed him up in a clown costume. The rest of the supporting cast fair no better because they are just passing people. Connie BrittonJohn Leguizamo and Bill Pullman are nothing more than stereotyped faces placing stereotyped characters and could be swapped for anybody else without notice.

Major Chip Hazaed - Small Soldiers

It’s obvious that as a film they’ve tried to take the basic idea of behind the Bourne franchise – a trained government killer who doesn’t know who he is – and try at aim it at a younger audience. And in my head I kept feeling that to keep it away from Bourne, or Bond, or any of the other countless grown-up, serious, adult films of that style, they have turned to Small Soldiers for inspiration. They’ve tried to lighten the mood, to make it fun and implausible and almost purposefully unreal and instead, just turned it into a complete mess. It has no idea how to juggle a serious theme with comedic elements and immature characters. Nothing feels connected or like it really has a place.

I also hated the films portrayal of mental illness. Obviously, due to my battles with anorexia, it’s a subject that is extreme close to my heart and a subject that I’m hypersensitive to, but American Ultra actively suggests that anyone with a mental illness is a “psychopath” with violent tendencies. Pushing this incorrect and unnecessary stereotype to the point of making it an in your face plot point and the moment it did, I just lost a bit of respect and a bit of interest in the film. Thankfully, being an action film, American Ultra manages to tell it’s story with a decent pace and so, while it does slow down towards the end and start to drag a little, you never really feel like it’s pummelling you into submission. I simply came out thinking it felt more like two-hours of chuck it all together and hope it turns out all right rather than ninety minutes.

Jesse Eisenberg & Kristen Stewart - American Ultra

I need to finish this by speaking about the aforementioned Stewart and Eisenberg. They aren’t actually too bad. They easily draw you in and it’s obvious they have a natural chemistry that convinces and means I forget they were anybody else aside Mike and Phoebe. However, this is mainly because they are never really pushed outside their comfort zone. Neither are ever really asked to act with their eyes. They both just have to play the simplistic “rabbit in the headlights” down and out’s. They aren’t tasked with conveying emotion or even really drawing you in because American Ultra is a film to watch rather than feel part of. There is no depth to the ball for them to risk dropping.

It’s fair to say that American Ultra is nothing more than a fun film, whose tone is such a mess that everything just feels silly and wrong and stupid as a result. It’s definitely a popcorn fodder, throw away movie that the teenage generation will get more out of than anybody else. It’s screw the script just ignite the petrol and nothing more. I just wish it had the guts to swap the leads around because I truly believe that making Stewart the “operative” and Eisenberg the byline would have added a freshness, depth and twist to the story that make have created enough life to save the day. But as it is, it’ll disappear as quickly as it’s last explosion.

6 out of 10 stars (6 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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