American Ultra

★★
There’s three slackers here: the two protagonists, and the writer.
Movie Review #1,002

american_ultra_ver5

Lionsgate
Action, Comedy
1 hour, 36 minutes
Rated R (strong bloody violence, language throughout drug use and some sexual content)
Released August 21, 2015
Directed by Nima Nourizadeh
Writer: Max Landis
Starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart

Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) is a stoner. He works at a convenience store that seems ready to go out of business at any day. No customers, no employees but him, and his uniform consists of a bathrobe and really nothing else. He spends his days behind the check-out counter, snacking on things he’s pulled off the shelves, drafting out his new comic book, smoking weed, talking to his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart).

The first half hour indicates that this movie does, in fact, have potential. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart have great chemistry, particularly as stoners. His paranoid rants and their nonsensical banter offer up most of the laughs in the movie. The setup bears a striking resemblance to “The Big Lebowski”, except where these two movies ultimately differ is that one actually worked out because of its sense of direction. As a general rule of thumb, or screenplay is the biggest factor to determine whether your movie is any good. Somewhere around thirty pages in, Max Landis completely obliterates his chance of an outlandishly funny movie, and instead goes for the movie equivalent of pressing “shuffle” on your iPhone.

I don’t have a problem with outlandish, but I do have a problem with movies that are outlandish because there’s practically no one writing the script. Soon after introducing his characters, Landis goes on autopilot. The movie delivers plot twist after plot twist and each one seems to make less sense than the previous. First we find out that Mike is wanted because he’s just killed two CIA agents who were outside jacking his car (?). Then we find out that it’s not the police who want him, but in fact, the CIA, because there are two CIA projects, known as Wiseman and Toughguy, who are fighting over whether to kill Mike or save him (?). Then we find out that for the last five years, Mike has been not a human being but in fact a lab rat in an experiment designed by a certain branch of the CIA (?). Then we discover that Phoebe isn’t just Mike’s girlfriend, but in fact a handler who was sent from the CIA to watch over him (?). Soon enough, this isn’t the same goofy stoner comedy it started out as. Instead, it’s just a recklessly written (and recklessly violent) comedy about how the existence of government can screw everything up. Indeed, it feels ironic that a movie without anyone to really guide it, should suggest anarchy in its every scrap of plot.

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