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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

American Ultra | Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo | Review

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4sm The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is GOOD Judy Thorburn

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4lg The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is GOOD

 

American Ultra

For the first time since working together on screen in 2009's Adventureland, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart team up as co-stars of American Ultra, a quirky, offbeat, action comedy that borrows elements from The Bourne Identity and Pineapple Express, but delivers its own unique twist and turns.

Under the direction of Nima Nourizadeh, working from script by Max Landis (son of writer/director John Landis)  Eisenberg plays Mike Howell, a long haired stoner, living with his girlfriend and love of his life, Phoebe (Stewart) in the small town of Liman, West Virginia. Prone to panic attacks that prevents him from traveling, but doesn't interfere with his job at the local Cash 'N Carry convenience store, when not at work, all Mike wants to do is spend time and smoke pot with Phoebe whom he hopes to propose to when he finds just the right moment. Oh, yes he is also working on a graphic novel called Apollo Ape, about the adventures of a kick ass monkey.

The couple's lives are suddenly turned upside down after Mike discovers that he is being targeted for death and has no clue as to why.  Mike is oblivious to the fact that he was part of  “Ultra”, a top secret CIA experiment to create sleeper assassins called “assets” and he was the only one that turned out to be a success. When it was deemed that the risks weren't worth the rewards, the program was shut down and his memories were erased. That is until CIA official, Victoria Lassetter (Connie Britton, TV's Nashville, Friday Night Lights) the former head of the program, shows up at the convenience store uttering some secret code to Mike that re-activates his hidden abilities.  Like a responsible mother figure, she wants to protect him from the assassins dispatched by Adrian Yates (a snarky Topher Grace) the new boss at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, who now controls the shots and wants him eliminated.

Mike first gets wind of his repressed powers when he is confronted by two assassins outside the convenience store.  In the blink of an eye, armed with just a spoon and hot soup, Mike is transformed into a lethal killing machine, destroying the pair with moves he never knew he had.  After freaking out by what he just did, he and Phoebe seek refuge at Mike's tattooed, drug dealer friend, Rose's (a scene stealing, zany performance by John Leguizamo) house and wind up in his black lit, neon glowing basement that proves to be only a temporary hiding place as several of Yate's “assets”, including the psycho, Laugher, (Walton Goggins, TV's Justified) are sent to take him out.

American Ultra is action packed and filled with violence, bloodshed, and some very funny, dark humor. However, amid all the lunacy is a sweet romance that is beautifully pulled off by the two lead actors who exhibit unexpected, charming, effective chemistry. For me, the biggest and most pleasant surprise is Stewart, who I've always found lacked depth, emotion, and is basically wooden when it comes to her on screen performances. Yet, here, as Mike's loyal, supportive, loving partner, she actually appears animated, shows some acting range, and holds her own opposite the always reliable, Eisenberg (a Best Actor Oscar nominee for The Social Network).

With its mix of action, stoner comedy and romance, American Ultra delivers a trippy, off-kilter, wild, crazy, and fun ride.  All things considered, it might turn out to be the (pun intended) “sleeper” hit of the year.

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