American Ultra had one of the best trailers of 2015 (below), building the tale slowly of Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg), a regular stoner working in a convenience store, daydreaming of a better life as a comic book artist, with elements being revealed slowly from there on about the fact that he’s actually a sleeper agent, but his identity is so catatonic that he doesn’t realise himself until the moment when he needs to know as the youknowwhat hits the fan, i.e. baddies come after him. It’s rather like The Truman Show, in which the trailer delivered the basics so that the film could pick up the ball and run with it, and didn’t need to spend 30 minutes on set-up.
And so I’ll start this review with the only negative about this low-budget movie which is that we’re basically told all of this before he finds any of it out, which is very conflicting by comparison. It rather feels like a structure that’s been put together by committee and that there’s a much better director’s cut version out there somewhere. But on to the good stuff…
While I thought The Social Network was simply ‘okay’, I find that films like this and The Double, directed by Richard Ayoade, showcase Jesse Eisenberg to be one of the must-see actors, and I love his turn in the recent trailer for Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice where he’ll be the new Lex Luthor. How can you top Gene Hackman? Well, he’s giving it his best shot. And, naturally, in a split second he acts Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill off the screen… but that’s not difficult with those two emotionless monoliths.
As Mike tries to make sense of it all, he’s trying to explain it to girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) while encountering FBI agents on varying sides of the law. The main one not on his side is Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) who will do all he can to eliminate Mike off the face of the planet, while Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) has nurtured him and feels that she owes it to him to offer some form of protection. But then how much protection does he need when he can pull some Jason Bourne-style action out at the drop of a hat?
Unlike a lot of movies, everyone is on top form here and even the most minor characters get memorable quotes, plus lots of little asides, and even before Mike discovers the truth about himself, he comments on his relationship with Phoebe: “We were the perfect fucked-up couple. She was perfect, and I was the fuck-up.”
Also, with great supporting roles coming from Walton Goggins as manic cop Laugher, John Leguizamo as Mike’s nefarious friend Rose, Tony Hale as FBI agent Petey Douglas – getting pulled in all directions, and Bill Pullman as mysterious FBI bod Krueger.
American Ultra brilliantly mixes comedy with action and deserved a much bigger audience at the box office, or AN audience! It came and went, barely given a chance! But it will get more exposure on Blu-ray and DVD, I’m sure.
Note: This review is just for the film only.
Running time: 96 minutes
Format: 1.85:1 (ARRIRAW (2.8K))
Released: January 4th 2016
Director: Nima Nourizadeh
Producers: David Alpert, Anthony Bregman, Kevin Scott Frakes, Britton Rizzio and Raj Brinder Singh
Screenplay: Max Landis
Music: Marcelo Zarvos
Mike Howell: Jesse Eisenberg
Phoebe Larson: Kristen Stewart
Adrian Yates: Topher Grace
Victoria Lasseter: Connie Britton
Laugher: Walton Goggins
Rose: John Leguizamo
Krueger: Bill Pullman
Petey Douglas: Tony Hale
Sheriff Watts: Stuart Greer
Otis: Michael Papajohn
Crane: Monique Ganderton
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.