I want you to close your eyes and imagine Jason Bourne. In those movies, you have Matt Damon as a government operative who is suffering from an extreme case of amnesia. He is constantly hunted by the organization that made him what he is, and only in those cases of fight-or-flight is he able to recall his deadly techniques.
Now, imagine Jason Bourne on weed.
American Ultra has a VERY familiar setup that even the Bourne franchise didn’t create. Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) is very content to live a slacker lifestyle in a small town. In fact, he actually can’t bring himself to leave (much like Truman in The Truman Show). Phoebe Larson (Kristen Stewart) is Mike’s reliable girlfriend. When Mike isn’t at his job working the graveyard shift at the local convenience store, the two basically get high.
The tone of the movie shifts radically when we are taken to the CIA headquarters at Langley. Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) and Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) are involved in a bureaucratic battle about a failed project that involved the recruitment of off-kilter agents. Yates is trying to eliminate any existence of the project, which means that Mike Howell has to die.
The following hour shows Mike and Phoebe dodging special agents in a flurry of violence and destruction.
Based on the synopsis alone, there’s not much to this movie that we haven’t seen before. In all reality, there isn’t a ton to this movie itself. The reason for the eradication of Mike isn’t explained. Yates’ malicious need to send in a small army to destroy a town is written off as… “wouldn’t it be crazy if this happened?”
I hate to say this, but if you ignore the significant story issues and plotholes, there’s a ton of fun to be had in American Ultra. While Mike may be no Jason Bourne, he can do some pretty handy things with a spoon and bag of frozen hamburger meat.
The reason the movie works is that it moves at a very fast pace. It’s just over an hour and a half. Any longer would have been including unnecessary filler. The script (written by Chronicle’s Max Landis) is far less funny than intended. The jokes fall flat. It’s only the physical stuff that goes over well. For example, Mike sweeps up broken glass in his house immediately after he dispatches two assassins. Small character nods make this movie partially work.
Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are sort of perfect in their roles. Also, they have fantastic chemistry, as already shown in 2009’s Adventureland. It’s just too bad they weren’t reunited in a better movie.
American Ultra is dumb, violent fun. You’ll forget about it the second you leave the theater, but that also prevents you from thinking about the plot too much. The two leads and the Hot Fuzz-eque violence lead this movie into B- territory. Worth a midnight rental.