Tuesday, August 25, 2015

American Ultra Review

Reuniting six years after the underrated 2009 feature Adventureland (and a year before the two again come together for Woody Allens 2016 effort), Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart have managed to become indie film mainstays in the years since, with especially Stewart developing a large following for her recent dramatic acting forays. Seeing the duo in the comedic feature American Ultra doesn't yield the best results either actors has ever seen, but it does work as a charming and inventive production, no denying that.

Life couldn't be going more swell for Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) and Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), as they live a quaint, but satisfying life together in a small town. The dynamic between the two as a romantic couple is one not conventionally seen, with Mike being shown to be a paranoid fellow with his own neuroses, while Phoebe is the more assertive one in the relationship. Typically, if this dichotomy even gets to exist in the majority of media, Mikes neuroses would likely be dismissed as him being "too sensitive" and his character arc would almost certainly revolve around him becoming more "manly", while Phoebe would be depicted as some sort of "control freak" that Mike needs to ditch for a more submissive girlfriend.

Thankfully, American Ultra goes down a sweeter path, showing their relationship to be a healthy one, with both Mike and Phoebe being happy together, though of course, tension soon rises, though it stems from Mike growing worried that his more neurotic personality is stopping Phoebe from achieving her full potential in life.  Both Eisenberg and Stewart have strong chemistry together and the script from Max Landis make the relationship (which is one of the most crucial elements in the story) feel at once realistic and something that's easy as pie to invest in.

Further conflict soon comes as soon as Mike goes down that o'l storytelling mainstay involving him being revealed as a sleeper agent for the US government who has the ability to take down more physically imposing foes in a gory fashion. The sharp dichotomy between the films more relaxed small-town atmosphere and this super spy content is a lot of fun, but the way the story is structured does make it lose a bit of edge. This is one of those films that starts at the end and then goes back to the beginning, and the conclusion of the story we see obviously involves spy-ish elements and more heightened entities.

A wrap-around structure like this really doesn't help the movie in any noticeable way and makes it less of a shock when Mike starts using his secretive powers. Going the way of The World's End and just having the stylized elements burst through the mundane without prior explanation would have worked infinitely better. Once those stylized elements do become a permanent fixture of the plot though the movie takes on a brisk and enjoyable pace that keeps the inventive fight scenes (several of which involve the delightful Walter Goggins as an evil henchman with a penchant for laughing) coming regularly. Hell, they even manage to turn the disappointment story turn of making Phoebe a "damsel-in-distress" in the finale into somewhat of a positive by giving Kristen Stewart a kick-ass action scene all to herself towards the end of the movie.

Suffice to say, American Ultra has its problems to be sure, but I did have fun with it, and it strikes me as the sort of movie modern day 12-14 year olds will watch, get sucked into its entertaining blood-soaked action and turn it into a future cult classic. I of course wouldn't call it a film of anywhere near that sort of stature, but it does have the sort of ingredients that cult classic films are made of. And hey, as it stands in the here and now, American Ultra is a unique and fun ride, no doubt about it.

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