Good acting, then bad acting. Good directing, then bad directing. Good writing, then bad writing. This film has it all.
American Ultra, directed by Project X’s Nima Nourizadeh, and written by the rather boisterous Max Landis, stars Jesse Eisenberg as Mike Howell, local store clerk by day, and stoner by night, who discovers himself to be an underground government asset. However, it’s never that simple, and of course someone wants to kill him, leading to action, hijinx, and more as he tries to save himself and his girlfriend from the mounting government forces tracking him down.
To summarize this film would be to say that its unbalanced. Not that the plot isn’t linear, or hard to follow, or one half is better than the other, but that the quality, from all departments, is incredibly inconsistent. Moments with good writing are directed awfully, with some relatively subtle jokes focused on with crude intensity – at times it almost feels as if gigantic subtitles screaming “did you get it?” and “LAUGH” should be plastered everywhere instead. While moments with weak writing, drenched in clichés and perceived brilliance, are sometimes handled excellently, using the cheesiness to its advantage.
The cinematography frequently dips from fun to TV-movie, the editing ranges from well-paced and exciting to sloppy and jarring, while the score is either fittingly cheesy or just irritating. The most consistent department is the VFX, which are all… awful, fake explosions, fake helicopters, extremely fake “cigarette” smoke, and all more than obvious.
However, there is a highlight that refuses to dip, and that’s the performances by Eisenberg and Stewart, and the surprisingly captivating chemistry they manage to maintain. Very rare is it in fast-paced action films, or comedies, that the romantics actually act as a believable couple, but this film manages that brilliantly. Then this is let down by the generally bad acting by everyone around them.
The film sometimes thinks its smarter and more original than it is (try to forget that its essentially just a stoner remake of Chuck), and too often makes itself dumber than it needs to be. Overall it is admittedly a great deal of fun, but it’s also too easy to walk away counting the ways by the dozen that it could have been far, far better.
American Ultra (2015), directed by Nima Nourizadeh, is distributed in the UK by Entertainment Film Distributors. Certificate 15.