I liked American Ultra and I’m not Afraid to Say so

This isn’t the best film ever, but damn, it’s fun. Though not lyrical or technically innovative, this action-packed action film couples the tongue-in-cheek charm of a stoner flick with a more imaginative version of the plot from the Bourne films. Jesse Eisenberg > Matt Damon. With cute character interaction and clever use of ubiquitous objects in the action scenes, this film is a bright spot amidst a sea of interchangeable action flicks.

From the beginning, we see Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) suffer from acute anxiety, leading audiences to believe that his Marijuana use is medicinal rather than purely recreational. This is an interesting deconstruction of the genre upon which this film is based, and rings true as many Americans are choosing to turn to weed to effectively treat depression and chronic pain. He’s a really likable protagonist, someone who is accessible unlike the typical action hero cartoon character. Mike’s character also doesn’t lose his awkward persona even after being “activated.” This personality quirk is satisfactorily explained; I especially enjoyed the subtle way Mike’s comic, Apollo Ape, is revealed to be a way for his subconscious to express his training.Such a QT

Kristen Stewart’s acting was acceptable, she has matured as an artist from her Twilight days, yet her character has some continuity problems. Spoilers ahead.  In the beginning of the film, Mike’s plan to escape the city for a romantic vacation are thwarted by his anxiety attacks. Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) is visibly upset by the ruined plans. She’s not just acting for Mike, because audiences see her being disappointed alone in her room. Later, it’s revealed that she’s his CIA handler who must have known that his panic attacks were planted in order to keep him from leaving. If this is the case, why was she so upset in the beginning? Her character doesn’t seem all too self-sufficient until the big reveal. It feels as if the writer or director wasn’t sure how to handle her without giving too much away while still making it plausible. This was the weakest part for me, but didn’t ruin the movie.

There were times that I felt claustrophobic watching the flabbergasted couple stutter at each other while figuring out what to do. Being anxious made empathizing with the characters easier, but I was still stressed after the film ended. Perhaps this is what action and suspenseful movies should do, bur rarely achieve.

The action in this film is underscored by Mike’s use of everyday objects as weapons. He fends off the CIA unarmed. He uses pans, fireworks, and other objects in creative ways, unlike any other action film I’ve seen. In this way, it really elevated the genre. I’ve never considered an action film as innovative or anything other than fluff, with a few rare exceptions. This film isn’t as pretty as Hero, but it seems much more raw than the cookie cutter Mission Impossible or the ridiculous, yet fun John Wick.

Why didn’t people go see it? As the film’s writer Max Landis laments, audiences would have had to take a chance with this film. It resists easy categorization, and perhaps movie goers do not want to be surprised. This is the unfortunate truth of any writing, today. I’ll probably buy this when it comes out on DVD. It’d be a fun movie to watch with friends or play in the background while hanging out.

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