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American Ultra: The Stoner Who Loved Me

December 16, 2015

American Ultra movie poster

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My initial reaction to American Ultra was disappointment. The film has a weird and occasionally lazy vibe that never gells. It felt like a mashup of cool ideas were thrown at a wall and only a few stuck. However, a few days later I started appreciating the film and the weird journey it took me on. I began to admire the core romance and the idea that nobody (good or bad) wanted to be on this particular mission to kill a deadly spy.  It is a stoner spy flick that is full of likable characters, surprising depth and John Leguizamo in some crazy outfits.

Jonh Leguizamo American Ultra

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American Ultra tells the story of a stoner couple in West Virginia having a very bad night. Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) works in a convenience shop and smokes away his days until there is a permanent fog in his brain. His girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) is equally as stoned but still has to be the responsible one because Mike is a total mess. One fateful night soldiers show up at the store and Mike dispatches them quickly and violently. From there the military comes in and it becomes like a Jason Bourne movie that smoked a lot of weed. I love that the town they live in is called Liman (named after Bourne director Doug Liman) and idea of Jessie Eisenberg as a killing machine battling a smug Topher Grace is very inspired.

What makes American Ultra  work are the small moments that add to the uniqueness of the film. Stewart and Eisenberg had solid chemistry in Adventureland and they are even more comfortable here. The two compliment each other well and Phoebe’s reaction to her boyfriends particular set of skills are priceless. There is a particular scene where Mike and Phoebe are fleeing a jail and one of the mercenaries yells “stop.” Mike stops and the mercenary throws a grenade at them.  The guy is so stoned he falls for the trick much to the amazement of Phoebe. Mike is a master class killer but the dude is pretty slow.

American Ultra is loaded with actors I like and I enjoyed watching Connie Britton, John Leguizamo, Walton Goggins and Topher Grace trade gun shots and one-liners. At first I thought they were wasting Walton Goggins in his thankless role as “Laugher.” However as the movie unfolds you actually feel for the guy and Goggins is allowed to do what he does best. Goggins excels at making bad guys likable. His bad guys are deadly and terrible but they have a soul and you sorta know where they are coming from.

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What I found interesting was writer Max Landis’s twitter response to the box office failing of American Ultra. He was dismayed that it didn’t make much money ($5.5 million opening weekend) while critical duds like Hitman: Agent 47 and Sinister 2 made decent money. It was an earnest outburst but I understand why audiences didn’t flock to watch a violent R-rated stoner spy comedy. American Ultra is bound to be a cult classic and it won’t appeal to the mainstream. It is too laid back and at the same time incredibly violent. It is not what anybody will expect and it took me a while to warm up to it.

If you are into laid back yet crazy violent films you will love American Ultra. Check it out and let me know what you think!

 

 

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