Monday 7 September 2015


(Nima Nourizadeh, 2015)

American Ultra probably looked great in the conceptual stage. A small-town stoner and his girlfriend wind up dodging assassins and kill-squads in a sleepy anonymous North Carolina town. Give it a few nasty action sequences, a little comedy quirk, charmingly convincing performances from stars Jesse Eisenberg and Kristin Stewart, and some millennial style from director Nima Nourizadeh and we should have a winner, right?
But it never really works. The tone lurches unpredictably around from scene to scene. It looks and feels like it should be an action-comedy, but there is barely any comedy, and what there is, isn't particularly funny. The action scenes are peculiarly bloodthirsty and violent without ever really becoming exciting. The moment where Eisenberg discovers that he is actually a highly trained sleeper agent killing machine feels ripped straight out of The Bourne Identity but here it lacks any of the adrenalised glee of that moment. Supporting characters aren't fleshed out enough - wasting an actor like Walton Goggins on a one-dimensional psycho called "Laugher" (he laughs a lot) is particularly unforgivable even if a late speech tries to humanise him - though Topher Grace is good as  his usual smug self in the villain part.
Eisenberg and Stewart are both fine too, rekindling the chemistry they showed in the vastly superior Adventureland, but even their relationship is a narrative mess. A twist halfway through and the resultant emotional explosion feels like the film hasn't earned it, and is never in keeping with the light tone some scenes attempt.
There are some great ideas here, a few big laughs and some good scenes, but it's not enough to stop the whole thing feeling like an undercooked dud.

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