Although I’ve been doing book reviews for the majority of this blog, I think it’s time to switch it up and put out some movie reviews. As such, let’s talk about a movie I watched recently, American Ultra. To be completely honest, I’ve never really been the biggest fan of Kristen Stewart or Jesse Eisenberg. I remember first seeing Kristen Stewart in Zathura and finding her annoying. This annoyance grew and morphed into dislike after I watched her in the Twilight movies. I just found her so incredibly awkward and lifeless and her acting came across as so one dimensional and flat. With Jesse Eisenberg, on the other hand, I initially really enjoyed his acting, but over time, I began to grow bored of his roles. It seemed like that he always played some awkward, neurotic person, although that may just be because I haven’t seen much of his filmography, only a few select films. Hence, when I first saw my Netflix suggesting American Ultra, I found it really amusing. Netflix would suggest a movie that contained two actors I didn’t really like. However, with nothing else to do and no inclination to spend more time choosing a movie, my sister and I decided to take the plunge and watch American Ultra. So imagine my surprise as I wound up enjoying the movie and actually improving my view on the two actors. Therefore, I decided this movie was worth a review, spoiler-filled of course (as is my style LOL).
The movie begins with an introduction to Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart’s character’s, Mike and Phoebe. Mike is a seemingly low-functioning stoner who has major travel issue, i.e. he finds it incredibly difficult to leave his small hometown and travel anywhere else. Phoebe is his supportive and loving girlfriend who understands his struggles. The movie actually begins with Mike and Phoebe attempting to travel to Hawaii, only to miss their flight after Mike begins experiencing intense panic attacks at the thought of leaving. Phoebe is understandably upset but tries to cope. The next day, the two continue on with their life together as normal; Mike goes to work in a convenience store and Phoebe goes to work at a travel agency. It’s quite apparent from this initial introduction that while the two do share a really loving relationship, their lifestyle is also incredibly mundane with no real prospects of improving.
The movie then switches to Connie Britton’s character, Lasseter, a CIA agent. She gets a call informing her that her last surviving ‘super-soldier’ will be killed. This super-soldier, it is revealed, is Mike (go figure LOL). Feeling a duty to protect him, she goes awol to try and protect him. The person in charge of killing Mike, is her rival CIA agent, Yates (played by the hilarious Topher Grace — I think he excels at playing asshole-who-gets-his-butt-kicked roles). Yates, it turns out, has created a successful super-soldier program (Lasseter’s program had failed and Mike was the sole surviver) and believes that killing off any remnants of Lasseter’s program is necessary for his success. Anyways, Lasseter goes off to find Mike and tries to warn him and activate him, using a bunch of words. Unfortunately for her, it doesn’t seem to work and she leaves.
After she leaves, two of Yates men come into the store to kill Mike, but his training kicks in (the words did activate him!) and he kills them. Mike, who has no idea about his past as a super-soldier, is horrified and quickly calls Phoebe. She comes to the store to try and figure out what to do, only for the two of them to be arrested by the local police. Thinking that jail would be an easy place to complete a kill, Yates sends in two of his super-soldiers to kill Mike. But of course he and Phoebe escape from the soldier, although one soldier does die and so does everyone else at the station. The two then run to the house of Mike’s supplier, in order to hide and evade capture. Yates becomes annoyed at his soldier’s failure and decides to place the city under quarantine, using the excuse of a virus and places Mike and Phoebe’s pictures on the news as wanted fugitives. Mike’s supplier watches this and freaks out and locks Mike and Phoebe in his trippy basement. Yates quickly tracks them down and tries to kill them by incapacitating the two with a gas while his men kills Mike’s dealer and his friends. Instead of Mike coming to the rescue, this time, it’s Phoebe who comes to the rescue and gets them both out of the gas and injects Mike to remove the gas from his system. And the truth comes out.
Turns out, Mike was a delinquent kid with not much going for him. Lasseter found him and made him a deal, in which she’d turn him into a super-soldier and his previous charges would be dropped. The program, called Ultra, functioned as a sort of mind control program wherein subjects would basically become mindless, trained, soldiers who could be relied upon to finish jobs. This is the reason why when Mike’s training kicks in to rescue him from the killers, he’s able to evade, overpower, and kill them in a manner of minutes. It’s all like second nature to him. But after the program failed (the other subjects killed themselves I think), Mike’s memory was erased. This is the reason why he is slow-functioning, because the mind erasing drugs dulled his brain. Phoebe, it turns out, was a CIA agent assigned as Mike’s handler. Mike is crushed by this revelation, allowing one of Yates soldier’s enough time to kidnap Phoebe.
Lasseter meets up with Mike again, saving him after one of Yates men tries killing him and Mike decides he wants to go home. Lasseter also reveals to Mike that while Phoebe was initially assigned as Mike’s handler, she fell in love with him and left her job with the CIA to come and live with him. Mike feels a bit better and after a fight out with some of Yates men, he communicates with Yates to get Phoebe back. Meanwhile, on the other side, Yates attempts to get a drone to completely wipe out Mike and Lasseter, but Lasseter’s former assistant at the CIA reports Yates actions to the Director of the CIA. The drone doesn’t work out and thus begins a huge fighting scene wherein Mike takes on many super-soldiers in order to get Phoebe back. The movie ends [SPOILER ALERT] with Mike and Phoebe living happily as CIA agents/ operatives. Some other stuff happens too before this ending, but I think it’s important to leave at least some things for movie-goers to watch, instead of me spoiling LOL.
Anyways, while the movie isn’t a great masterpiece or anything, it’s definitely quite fun to watch. Director Nima Nourizadeh actually had some great shots and I really enjoyed some of the trippy sequences. I especially thought the fight sequences were interesting, as Mike literally just fights with whatever he can find, i.e. using a spoon as a knife. And while the script wasn’t award-winning, it definitely had quite a few lines that I just found hilarious. For example, when Mike is talking to Yates in order to get Phoebe back, Yates demands that Mike surrender and Mike agrees. He then wonders how he’s supposed to surrender and proceeds to ask Yates if he has to wave a white flag (he actually does wave a white tissue paper in one fight LOL) or if he has to sign something to make it official (LOL). Of course I realize that not everyone would find such humour appealing, but my sister and I quite enjoyed it. However, I think it’s also worth while to point out that the movie did have some drawbacks. Some of the fight sequences were gory to the core, and kind of disgusting at times. And while there were definitely some really, really funny lines, there were also some lackluster moments in the movie. The script wasn’t necessarily buzzing with laughs. And the plot-line of the movie is fairly predictable. So I caution against watching this movie with high expectations. My sister and I watched it without any expectations. Actually, if anything, we watched it with extremely low, perhaps even into negative territory, expectations. And maybe perhaps that’s why we enjoyed the movie so much; we found it to be much better than expected. Which brings me to the actors.
The best thing about this movie, in my opinion, was probably the acting, especially Kristen Stewart. She was really great in this movie. She presented a wide array of emotions and emoted so well. There was none of that awkward, lifeless performance I expected of her, which it a bit surprising since her character was definitely presented as a little bored and tired. I found her so engaging on screen and despite the small-ish role Phoebe occupied, I always enjoyed seeing her on screen. My view of her as an actor has definitely improved after seeing this movie, she’s quite good at comedy (and personally, I think comedy is one of the hardest genre’s to master acting in). Even Jesse Eisenberg was pretty good. The stoner, anxious parts of his character were enacted well by him, but that’s to be expected. He also did surprising well in the action sequences. And the rest of the supporting cast was good as well. Connie Britton and Topher Grace were great, as was Walton Goggins who played one of the super-soldiers. If it wasn’t for them, the movie probably would’ve bombed harder than it did.
My rating: Watch it with no expectations in order to have a decent time and to discover that Kristen Stewart has legit acting chops.