The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.
American Ultra (Lionsgate Films)
Directed by Nima Nourizadeh
Written by Max Landis
American Ultra is a fun idea but it is badly executed. The directing is completely and absolutely bloody awful. The actors look like they are rewriting their dialogue and their actions while the camera is rolling. I can take or leave Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. When they’re good (and that usually means a really good script or a talented director or both) they are pretty fucking good, but when they are bad they are horrible. Some actors can shine above the material. These two can not. So without good performances, there is nothing to like about American Ultra. In a word, it is garbage. I’m going to spoil the shit out of this one.
Jesse Eisenberg plays a stoner character who is nervous and squirrelly to such an annoying extent that I was not rooting for him. He is beyond annoying. And for some reason his girlfriend is Kristen Stewart. It makes no sense because he is so very useless. He has no memory of his past. No skills. (I mean he can draw a little and he’s supposed to be working on a creative comic book story but it is not creative or even the least bit good). He wants to take his girlfriend on vacation but has never been able to leave this small town. He has these panic attacks you see. He is what I would call a non-character. Un-written. One of the many hallmarks of lazy writing. Two-dimensional on purpose. Something a very clever 12 year-old would write.
It turns out he’s a super secret spy-type killer or some shit. But that is so unbelievable and the situations that he fumbles his way out of are far less conceivable than Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis or Mr. Magoo stumbling and bumbling through defeating their adversaries because Jesse’s character is actually trying to do the things that he does. But it’s so far-fetched and badly choreographed that they might as well have said he had super powers. The outlandish escapes and kills are another symptom of the bad writing. Max Landis, who wrote Chronicle and happens to be the son of John Landis, wrote the screenplay and it is awful. Nepotism is alive and well and living in Hollywood California. This should never have gotten made. It is pure garbage.
Anyway… Spoiler Alert. Kristen Stewart was of course his handler and fell in love with him and stayed after he was released from the super secret spy program. (they make the agency the CIA. I feel it would have been more believable had it been some made-up agency because it’s all so corny and cartoony) Anyone who has ever seen a movie knows that Kristen Stewart is in on the joke. It comes as no surprise but the director plays it like it’s some big reveal. Maybe with better actors this major part of the story could have landed better. It’s bad. And they think it’s cool. You can tell they think it’s cool.
And then the CIA officers played by Connie Britton, Topher Grace and Tony Hale are also very bad in this. And I’ve seen all of them do better. It’s the script and the director. It’s hard to care about any of the characters because it might as well have been stated in the script that they all lost their memories too because there is nothing substantial to any of them. (In American Ultra, only John Leguizamo rises above the bad writing). And it’s silly and they’re silly but it’s difficult to know if it’s supposed to be silly because the director plays it so straight and the actors spend most of the film screaming at each other. Every character shows the brutal physical damage they take. So there is bruising and bleeding like it’s a very serious movie but the fight scenes are hysterically slap-stick, so it doesn’t fit. Except for the punchline. The last scene, after the climax, before the epilogue, is the punchline of this massive joke of a film and it only works because they show the damage.
Again SPOILER ALERT. So when we get to the end, our heroes are covered in their own blood and other’s blood and bruised and beaten and surrounded by heavily armed officers with high-powered rifles and the town is burning and mayhem and carnage and blah blah blah. So after going through the movie fretting over when and where to ask his girlfriend to marry him (while killing people… it’s very stupid). He chooses that very moment, rifle scopes pointed at their chests he drops to one knee and shows her the ring. And it’s actually very sweet. (she says yes) But you have to go through miles and miles of crap to get to it. The end does not justify the means.
America Ultra is a very bad movie. A great idea that is lost in crappy dialogue, weird improvisations, mindbogglingly dumb action sequences, bad acting and extremely horrible direction. This is garbage. Straight up garbage. Absolute garbage.