The summer movie season is almost at an end. It’s hard to believe four months went by so fast. Unfortunately, by the time we get to the latter part of August there is not much to look forward to anymore. Studios are scrapping the bottom of their barrels and what they put out is pretty bland. This holds true for “American Ultra” opening today, August 21.
Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) is a stoner who works in a small grocery store. He doesn’t have much in his life, but he has his girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), his comic he likes to draw and more than enough weed to keep him happy. His life turns upside down when a customer shows up at his store and says a bunch of crazy words to him. Shortly afterwards, government agents are trying to kill him. What amazes Mike the most is his ability to take them all out with ease. It appears there is more the Mike’s life than he knows.
The movie is billed as an action comedy. The first problem is that most of the action scenes are uninteresting and there are three laughs, at most, through the entire movie. The summer of 2015 has seen a number of independent film directors get a shot at directing something bigger, and by all accounts, those directors have found themselves biting off way more than they can chew. The most recent one was a couple of weeks ago when Josh Trank turned in one of the worst superhero movies of all time with “Fantastic Four.” The director of “American Ultra” is Nima Nourizadeh and maybe he was high when he made this film given the mess he made.
It begins in the very first scene. It takes place in a room. There are not too many things you can do with a camera in a small location like that, but Nourizadeh decided he was going to put it all over the place to the point where his editor could not make good cuts and the scene is just out of whack. He’s trying to do too much. The one other film he directed was “Project X” a found footage type of film about a huge high school party, so how in the world anyone thought he could direct action scenes is anyone’s guess. They probably thought he could deliver the comedy aspects of “American Ultra’s” script, but like a bad comic being on stage for the first time, the movie is almost laugh-less.
When Max Landis wrote “American Ultra” you get the sense he had Jesse Eisenberg for the role of Mike. The part appears tailor made for him. The standout in the movie; however, is Kristen Stewart. Some moviegoers may have a the negative impression that Stewart is a bad actress due to her participation in the Twilight movies. Nothing can be further from that as she is an underrated thespian and highly skilled at her craft. During the years she was making those movies, she made a number of small independent films that really helped her hone her craft. Check out her work in movies like “The Yellow Handkerchief” and “Welcome to the Rileys.” She is a very strong actress, she just played a poorly written and weak character.
Speaking of poorly written and weak characters, that bring us to Topher Grace’s, Adrian Yates. Actors often talk about how it is more fun to play the bad guy over the good one, but Yates is more of a clown than a threat. Topher plays him as a real jerk, but the character is one-dimensional and his motivation makes little sense other than to give this movie a plot. Yates’ motivation to try to kill Mike Howell boarders on the absurd and makes him one of the more uninteresting villains to grace a movie screen in a real long time. While Eisenberg was a perfect fit for his role, an actor that could have appeared more menacing would have been a better fit for his main adversary.
The good news is that there are some good looking movies just around the corner on the fall schedule. Plus, there are still good choices out there currently playing in your local theater. While this column would never advocate the use of drugs, it is probably the only way you will enjoy seeing “American Ultra.” It is rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, drug use and some sexual content.