I’ve been weirdly excited for American Ultra ever since I first saw the trailer for the flick.
I have an awkward spot in my heart for Jesse Eisenberg, and I loved watching him and Kristen Stewart together in Adventureland (which you should totally see if you haven’t). I love the idea of stoner comedy/Jason Bourne-ish spy movie mashup (I believe Screen Junkies likened the film to “if Jason Bourne and Pineapple Express had a baby”) , so this one was high on my to-watch list. I saw it this weekend, and don’t get me wrong: I liked it. It was a fun ride, and I’m glad I’m saw it. But I left the movie with the feeling of That was good, but I expected a lot more. I know, that’s a crappy critique to offer a movie, so let me explain.
Before I do though, I should say that the movie did one thing very right, and that was casting Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in the lead roles.
I love watching these two together, and I find their brand of quirky, quiet, awkward, yet lovable chemistry so fun to watch. As someone who is quite quirky, quiet, awkward, and (hopefully) lovable herself, I appreciate seeing those types of relationships onscreen. They are what made the movie for me, and they gave the crazy plot line some much-needed and very believable heart. I’ll be honest, if it wasn’t for these two, I don’t know if I would have liked the movie nearly as much. Despite the things I wasn’t crazy about in this one, Eisenberg and Stewart’s chemistry made the movie worth the watch.
…Buuuut like I said, there were some things I wish they did a bit differently [WARNING: major spoilers ahead!!!!]
More Kristen Stewart
I know the “cool” thing to do since Twilight is to hate Kristen Stewart. She’s a bad actor, she doesn’t smile, she doesn’t wash her hair, blah, blah, blah. The fact was, I loved her in this movie–and I’ve loved her in other films I’ve seen her in as well. I just wish we got a bit more of her story in the movie. [FINAL SPOILER WARNING] I was able to call her character’s–Phoebe–CIA affiliation pretty early on in the film, which was a bummer. While I never once doubted Phoebe’s devotion to Jesse Eisenberg’s character, Mike, I kind of wish we spent a bit more time getting to know her on the front end so her big reveal as Mike’s “handler” would have been more of a surprise. Besides, Phoebe was just a great character, and I would have liked to have seen more of her.
More Freaked Out Mike
Mike’s character is a recently activated CIA super-soldier, right? Though his programming was largely successful, the program was slowly driving him insane–hence his deactivation and entrance into the stoner world. Because of the anxiety and slower processing speed Mike deals with thanks to his CIA programming, the way he works through the entire “activation” isn’t as much of a raucous, barrel of laughs like you’d expect. There are funny parts, sure, but because of the speed his brain processes, a lot of times he simply accepts the situation and moves forward.
He’s largely scared, confused, and ultimately hurt by the entire situation, so Mike’s dealings with his past are largely very human moments rather than funny. While the more human moments are important, and great–like the scene where Connie Britton’s character explains the entire Ultra program to Mike–I wish they balanced it out with a few more funny ones. After all, no one plays awkward and confused like Jesse Eisenberg…
…well, maybe Michael Cera. I digress.
Tone Topher Grace Down a Bit
I love Topher Grace, I really do, but he was a cartoon villain in this movie. Seriously, he was so outlandish that I’m surprised they didn’t give him a mustache to twirl. Topher Grace is great at sarcasm and speaks fluent smart-ass, yet I felt like they kept pushing his character to be bigger and louder, which just made him seem ridiculous. In scenes where he was a bit more chill (for instance, the phone call between him and Mike, giffed above, was one of my favorites) showed Grace’s sarcastic smart-ass persona much better than the scenes where he’s trying to be the most evil, vest-wearing man in the CIA. I get that they were trying to make Grace’s character evil and ridiculous, but it felt like it was a bit too much.
Whenever Mike would have any sort of flashback, we’d see a rapid fire of images. I felt like that was how they wrapped up the entire movie. I think this one is really the heart of my entire issue with the movie. I felt like they rushed through everything. They rushed through introducing you to Phoebe and then telling us that she’s actually CIA. They rushed through Mike’s processing of his newfound skills and reality. They rushed through the characterization of their main villain, making him cartoonish, and they rushed into the ending. American Ultra had SO MANY great things in it, and so many great foundations that, had they just pushed a bit more, could have made this movie a million times more wonderful–or ultra–than it was.
So should you see American Ultra? If you like stoner comedies, you’ll love this. If you like Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart together, you’ll like this. If you like true-to-genre spy movies, this one isn’t for you. If you’re thinking this will be similar to Zombieland, mixing funny in with a normally un-funny genre, you’ll enjoy the movie, but you’ll be disappointed. American Ultra is a fun, funny, heartfelt movie, but ultimately they fall just short of making this as awesome of a movie experience as it could have been.
Did you see American Ultra this weekend? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!