"Hey, Dude, Is that Blood …?"
What You Need To Know:
AMERICAN ULTRA has many of the elements for an entertaining action comedy. It also has some clear distinctions between good and evil. However, the extreme violence is too heavy for the comedy, and the foul language and marijuana use are too coarse for the hero’s romance with his girlfriend. Ultimately, the negative content is too excessive to be truly entertaining, much less inspiring. As a result, media-wise, discerning viewers will want to skip AMERICAN ULTRA.
(HH, Ro, B, LLL, VVV, S, NN, DDD, M) Strong humanist worldview with some light Romantic, moral elements (romantic couple wants to get married); at least 61 obscenities and several profanities, plus an instance of vomiting; a high level of violence such as shootings with firearms, stabbings with knives and miscellaneous objects, explosions, fires, and gassing with intent to kill, so many characters are stabbed, shot, bludgeoned to death, and even killed with bare hands; implied sexual relationship with main characters are shown in bed together, but their bodies are covered and a room has nude paintings; a room depicts paintings with upper female nudity; no alcohol; multiple instances of marijuana smoking by the main characters; and, ambition and self-interest drives villain.
AMERICAN ULTRA is about a pot smoking young man living with his girlfriend in a small West Virginia town who doesn’t know that in the past he was trained to be a lethal government secret agent because his memory has been erased. AMERICAN ULTRA is a foul-mouthed, blood soaked attempt at a cross between a spy thriller and a comedy for potheads.
AMERICAN ULTRA is the story of Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) who lives with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) in a small West Virginia town. Mike is content leading a pothead’s life without any career goals or high achievement. He works at a quick stop grocery store nearby and draws cartoons of a super hero monkey, comparable to Mighty Mouse, on his spare time. The couple’s life is pretty routine, but for some reason Mike is unable to travel too far from where he lives without suffering uncontrollable panic attacks. One thing is for sure, he truly loves Phoebe and is planning to ask her to marry him. He doesn’t realize, however, that there’s a lot more to his past than he can consciously remember.
As it turns out, years ago he had been a hopeless loser getting repeatedly in trouble, and when one day out of the blue he was offered an opportunity to volunteer for a government project that eventually would turn him into a deadly secret agent, he doesn’t hesitate and signs up for the program. Unhappily, the project ultimately fails, Mike is deactivated, and his memory erased.
Fast forward to the present. A decision is made at CIA headquarters to officially deactivate Mike permanently, as in kill him. To his good fortune, Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton), one of the CIA managers involved in the original program, gets wind of this and decides to look after Mike’s survival. She believes he can still be of good use to the country and deserves to live. To protect Mike’s life, Lasseter now has to go head-to-head with an uber-greedy, soulless, desk jockey turned field agent, Adrian Yates (Topher Grace). For his own personal advancement, Adrian has come up with the plan to close the book on Mike, so he’s leading the search and destroy mission.
AMERICAN ULTRA is a mish mash of ideas incorporating a quasi-nostalgic journey to the hippie pot smoking mentality of the 60s, today’s high security, secretive government programs involving deadly, martial arts trained secret agents, and the tender but fragile loving relationship between the main characters. Jesse Eisenberg plays his character well, always reminiscent of a long-eared, sad-faced, puppy dog, but capable of switching into a fierce lethal combat mode when threatened. Kristen Stewart as his girlfriend Phoebe navigates the whole plot slightly under the radar, but it works well, allowing her to stay comfortably in character. Topher Grace as the self-promoting Agent Yates makes it easy for the audience to detest his many evil dimensions, from his unbridled ambition and ruthlessness, to his lack of character and ultimate weakness. Connie Britton as the remorseful agent who can’t see her little martial arts trained puppy dog destroyed falls short of making any major impact, but is, nevertheless, thoroughly professional in her performance. Finally, John Leguizamo as Rose is as competent as he is disgusting in his role as Mike’s drug pusher.
AMERICAN ULTRA has many of the elements to make an enjoyable comic book spy thriller with a little bit of action, a few chuckles and a little bit of true romance. It’s a chancy mix, requiring careful balance to make it work. The problem is that, although it comes close, it never quite achieves that balance. Thus, the perfect mixture evades the filmmakers and the movie’s director. Under their formula, the extreme and bloody violence, with its mounting number of corpses, is too heavy for the comedy, while the drug consumption and excessive foul language are too coarse for the romance. Ultimately, the negative content is too excessive to be entertaining enough, much less inspiring or redemptive.