What happens when you mix the Bourne series with Pineapple Express? Both films are vastly different, one is an action flick and the other is a stoner film. And both are great in their own right, Seth Rogen and James Franco truly shine in their film and Matt Damon is a fantastic bad-ass in the Bourne films. When you mix the two, however, you get American Ultra, or at least that’s how the film has been advertised recently. All the humor of Pineapple Express combined with all the kick-ass of Jason Bourne. However, while the film does accomplish this mash-up, it fails in capturing the awesomeness of either. This results in a film that feels like it is missing something, the film has decent action sequences and some passable comedy, but you end up with a feeling of emptiness after the film finishes… when someone asks you “hey, how was America Ultra?”, your internal response will most likely be, “Well…it’s a movie…”.
Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) is a small-town stoner who lives with his girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), and spends most of his time drawing/writing adventures of a super-hero monkey. Howell suffers from frequent anxiety attacks, especially whenever he tries to leave his small town. This results in him wasting a vacation in Hawaii in which he was to propose to Phoebe.
Meanwhile at the CIA, Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) gets a mysterious call warning her that Howell is about to be disavowed and killed. Howell was part of a secret CIA super soldier-eque program that she ended when she started to care too much for Howell’s safety. Naturally, she goes to an unaware and unsuspecting Howell and activates his latent and hidden spy abilities before he gets attacked (effectively turning him into a kick-ass killing machine). Howell is attacked outside of his place of employment, a small liquor store, and easy kills the two would-be murderers.
Ultra-powered Howell is stunned by his capabilities and calls Phoebe for help because he has no idea what to do. They quickly get arrested and are put in a holding sell and attempt to piece things together. Before they are able to do that, the precinct falls under attack and Howell and Phoebe find themselves being hunted by highly trained assassins. Howell must use his newfound abilities to keep himself and his girlfriend safe and take down the people hunting him.
Truth be told, I was being a little harsh with my opening paragraph (even though what I said was entirely true). The film is a watered down version of both films it claims to combine, but that does not mean that this film is complete garbage– it has charming parts. Eisenberg is surprisingly convincing as a bad-ass. His fight scenes were very well choreographed and entertaining. The final fight scene, in particular, reminds me of a video game in both creativeness and gore– like a funnier version of watching Denzel, from the Equalizer, kill people in a Home Depot. In fact, the fight scene reminded me more of a Jason Bourne–meets Zombieland sort of? Not sure if that will make much sense….
I also though Kristen Stewart would be more annoying than she actually was in this film. She emoted more than I though she would also– this was a pleasant surprise and they did a good job of having an on-screen connection between the two main characters. Although the twist with her character was extremely predictable, I didn’t mind it too much because the twist allowed her to kick some ass as well–which WAS surprising.
….But here is where they missed with this film…..
They killed of Jon Leguizamo way too early in the film… in fact they shouldn’t have killed him at all! This was a complete waste of his character. Quite simply, he could have been the best character in the film. The small amount he was in the movie– he stole the show along with his lackies. He could have been a really good companion/sidekick to Eisenberg and a solid compliment to the cast as a whole. The film might have delivered more on the comedic promises made by the ad-campaign by giving him more screen time.
I also wanted more action. I think we, as the audiences, waited far too long for Eisenberg to be a bad-ass–and when he finally does, they only pepper it in here and there until the end of the film. I wanted more! It did not help that the fight scenes were actually really good, either, it just made me want to see more of said action.
See what I mean? They did have funny parts and action parts– but they seemed to only mildly deliver on both…
Sadly, I think Topher Grace needs to either stop acting or take time off to work on his craft. His character felt like a joke to me throughout the film, you literally cannot take him seriously as a manager of an IHOP let alone a CIA director. I get it, his character was meant to be an unlikable asshole– but Grace severely overacted his scenes and lines and it is really hard to keep your focus in the film.
Plot (out of 20)
As much as the writer, Max Landis, argued on twitter that the film was “original”– it really wasn’t. It was an attempt to mash-up two films with extremely different fan bases in hopes to sell more total tickets. What we get is a sort of ridiculous plot that you have to strain really hard to buy in to and the only saving grace it has is Eisenberg’s believable performance. (5/20)
Characters (out of 20)
Max Howell and Phoebe were a nice pair and their chemistry was well-done. Topher Graces character was horrid and just…. bad. Leguizamo could have been the best character in this film if he was not killed off so early as well. (13/20)
Acting (out of 20)
Other than Topher, the rest of the cast was really good. Even Buster (from Arrested Development) was good in his role. Eisenberg shines in this film and balances stoner and bad-ass extremely well. he switches between the two effortlessly and is convincing at both ends of that spectrum simultaneously. (15/20)
Storytelling (out of 30)
The story was easy to follow and predictable in many parts. The true problem in the film was its attempt at mixing genres rather than picking one genre and really going for it. It has good elements of both sides– but not great elements of either. If the film was more focused, it might have been a really good film in either case…. we will never know.(15/30)
Ad-Campaign (out of 10)
The Ad-Campaign was terrible for this. The Trailers were uninspired and the movie posters–which they put seemingly everywhere really didn’t pique anyone’s interest in the film. (0/10)