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Saturday, August 29, 2015

American Ultra 2015 * * Stars

American UltraDirector: Nima Nourizadeh
Year: 2015
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Connie Britton, Kristen Stewart

August has arrived and I guess that means it's Jesse Eisenberg's turn to appear in a movie (remember 30 Minutes or Less?). He's a fast-talking, brilliantly smart aleck actor and if he had a decent script, you always wonder what this dude might be capable of. Take for instance his American Ultra (my latest review). It's ultra-violent, ultra-filthy, and ultra-preposterous. There's the compulsory premise of a guy with special skills, a lot of brute force, and dialogue about the Central Intelligence Agency (and such) that seems masqueraded with f-words instead of actual insight. In truth, "J's" magnificent turn in The Social Network now feels like it was eons ago. I wanted to wait for "Ultra" to bomb at the box office so I could back up that discerned dissertation.

Touted as a stoner flick but coming off as nothing of the sort (only if you count the protagonist smoking a joint or two), featuring a bad guy who dies from a bullet that ricochets off a frying pan, and heralding the spoon as a modern day murder weapon, this 2015 release focuses on Mr. Mike Howell (Eisenberg). Mike's a loser with anxiety issues. He's also a long-haired nebbish that loves to get his weed-on. Finally, he works at a convenience store in Liman, West Virginia (a fictional town) and dates a spunky vixen who's clearly out of his league (Phoebe Larson played by a wooden Kristen Stewart). Mikey doesn't know it yet but a few years ago, he was trained by the boys at Langley to be a deadly killing machine. He was part of an experiment for bloke criminals on the verge of getting their third strike. When said experiment turns pale (cut to present day), everybody in the department flies from Virginia to its neighboring state to eliminate Howell. An activation then occurs in his head (by way of computer code) and walla, senses are enlighten, fists turn into fists of fury, and trigger fingers becomes happy happy happy. The agent who helps him fight off the CIA schleps who want him dead, is Victoria Lasseter (the always sexy Connie Britton).

In terms of direction, Nima Nourizadeh (he shot the hyperactive, hand-held Project X) subjugates a certain unevenness while adding nothing really new to the action/comedy genre. I found myself not investing my time in the film's intricacies. I just waited impatiently for the next, habitual action set piece (what else was I gonna do, walk out?).

Now as mentioned earlier, I wouldn't quite put "Ultra" in the category of Cheech & Chong. However, if you were under the influence of the almighty ganga, that might be the only way you could possibly think of it as a masterpiece. This is reheated and rehashed stuff, a shoot em-up schlock that barely redeems itself. Yeah there's the impressive cameo in veteran Bill Pullman (he plays a CIA superior named Raymond Kruger), a couple of nifty action sequences where the hero gives everyone the Liam Neeson treatment, and a speedy, new wave musical soundtrack accompanying plenty of impactful kills. But despite what some critics have noted, these proceedings aren't cult following material. Heck, I've already been to the Mountain State (the film's murky setting). I don't need to go back again because that's punishment enough.

Bottom line: Eisenberg in the lead, deserves better material than this. I don't know him personally but he seems to have an actor's inferiority complex. In all sincerity, American Ultra barely heightens your senses with standard bone cracks, Ecstasy-laden scenic environments, and hazy butt kicking (you can't quite make out the fight scenes because it's always dark outside). And in between all the barbarous shenanigans, you feel bored not to mention disinterested. Just call it an ultraist ultimatum. The result: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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