Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are both ubiquitous at the box office, as well as under and overrated at the same time, but there’s a reason they stay on the A-list in Hollywood. They always bring the thespian goods, and show their skills here, but are they enough to pull together the Max Landis written film that mashes more genres together than is safe, in an environment where only the easily branded, and best buzzed about make box office bucks?
If you’d like to read a transcript, we’ve got that covered:
Oscar nominated Jesse Eisenberg and Cesar winner Kristen Stewart partner in the ultra violent genre bender American Ultra. But will their talent and chemistry make a winner at the box office?
Eisenberg plays Mike Howell, a floundering stoner unaware of his skills as a trained killer. His The Social Network Oscar nom showed him capable of a wide acting spectrum, but he has become the go-to guy anytime Hollywood casts nervous neurotics, and Howell SEEMS as high strung & ineffectual as it gets. Kristen Stewart, who plays supportive girlfriend Phoebe, is just off a successful year with STILL ALICE and CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA, for which she won the first ever French Cesar award given to an American supporting actress.
AMERICAN ULTRA is one of those inconsistent films that is both great and frustrating in equal measure. While not altogether a derivation, we’ve seen aspects of this story before, from the gun-toting lovers united in NATURAL BORN KILLERS and BADLANDS to the MK-Ultra activated agents in the BOURNE movies and TV’s CHUCK. The difference here is the lovers are on the right side of the law, and the activated agent still just wants to get high. It’s in Mike and Pheobe’s love story that AMERICAN ULTRA most succeeds in connecting with the audience. Stewart and Eisenberg approach it all with deadly seriousness, as they should. Imagine, if you will, Cheech and Chong, Manchurian Candidate: A Love Story. If the film works, it’s because they never play it for laughs. They have surprisingly good chemistry together, as well as memorable moments playing against other characters. Featured actors Walton Goggins as psychopathic killer Laughter and John Leguizamo as Howell’s friend Rose add quirk, humor and depth, lifting scenes that could have devolved into pure caricature.
American Ultra has a screenplay by writer Max Landis, of CHRONICLE and the upcoming VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN. Landis shows his talent for character development here, however, the stretches in credulity for both plot and motivation are destructive to the movie as a whole, and it’s only through actors’ commitment and great characterization that viewers will stay hooked into the ultra-violent action. Despite the gaffs in tonal consistency, this movie, and it’s funky little love story, deserves to find it’s cult audience.