By James Hancock August 20th, 2015
Take a premise like The Bourne Identity, add some action reminiscent of John Wick, and then stir in some weed-related humor and you have American Ultra, an action/comedy that is for the most part a solid movie. The fact that the movie doesn’t 100% coalesce into a complete film does not prevent me from reveling in the gruesome, highly stylized action sequences nor the surprisingly enjoyable rom-com taking place between the stars Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. With a screenplay by Max Landis (Chronicle), director Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) seems to be searching for the right tone of his movie for most of its running time. Some actors appear to get the joke and perform accordingly while other members of the cast seem confused about how to play certain scenes. None of that really matters. The movie zips along at a brisk pace and has enough entertaining laughs and violence to justify its existence. If you are planning on hitting the movies with friends and/or family this weekend, American Ultra should be in the conversation as a possibility.
The reason the movie works as well as it does is primarily due to the comedic timing of Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. Honestly, any scene where they are absent you might as well spend that time checking something on your phone. Eisenberg and Stewart share some very warm scenes and completely sell the idea of being in love giving the movie some much needed heart. A few years ago, I wasted a lot of time saying silly things about Kristen Stewart but I have to say that I am rapidly becoming a devoted fan. Whether she is starring in Oscar bait like Clouds of Sils Maria or smoking weed and beating the shit out of people in American Ultra, she is consistently the best thing in many of the movies she agrees to do. To be totally honest, I went into this movie crossing my fingers that Max Landis would deliver on the script. Son of the great John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), Max Landis has a reputation as one of the best script doctors in Hollywood but to date has only had his screenplay for Chronicle actually produced. Many find him to be narcissistic and annoying but in every interview I have seen with him his contagious enthusiasm for storytelling is overwhelming. He’s also created some dynamite YouTube videos, my favorite of which I’ll link below. I’ve read a few pages of his draft of Fantastic Four and those four pages alone were far more entertaining than that pile of manure released a few weeks ago. So I’m in Max Landis’ corner and I’m hoping that his fertile imagination will continue to be unleashed on a regular basis. Any shortcomings the film has, I’m just going to lay at the feet of the inexperienced director at the helm. So while American Ultra is not remotely my favorite movie of the summer (Mad Max: Fury Road has that honor), it is an entertaining experience that I would definitely watch again before giving Jurassic World, Trainwreck, Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation, Vacation, or Fantastic Four a second chance.
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Max Landis Highlights: