At the start of American Ultra, a beat-up and bloody dude by the name of Mike is asked how he got to such a state by an authoritative figure.
Wanting to be supportive, he starts to answer. Instead we get quick panels of flashbacks.
Sitting in a late Friday afternoon showing in the Regal Cinemas theater in Shoppingtown mall surrounded by a small crowd of barely a dozen, I immediately think: Oh, no. Not this back-to- front device used many times before.
But really, that first scene had no bearing on this action-mystery-thriller-comedy written by Max Landis and directed by Nima Nourazadeh.
Quickly we get zipped to zipped to his life in a small West Virginia town, where Mike is a confused stoner living with, as we quickly find out through both his actions and narration, his beautiful and patient girlfriend Phoebe. Mike’s trying to take Phoebe for a vacation to Hawaii, but instead of making the final boarding call as she waits and frets alone, he’s wretching from anxiety in the men’s room. Egads.
Then American Ultra turns into part Chuck, that TV show from NBC where a smart nerd is loaded with super powers by a government agency, part Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the classic 80s movie where stoner Jeff Spicoli smokes his way to astonishing conclusions amid an interesting cast of characters, and part Romeo and Juliet, where you’re left wondering how did these two end up together and will they stay that way?
It’s all a tad unsettling at times, this multiple-personality thing, but American Ultra ultimately goes down well because of the acting.
Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart pair together well as the oil-and-water couple as secrets get revealed in twists and turns, and Connie Britton and Topher Grace hiss and coil in a whole different way as CIA agents hell-bent to make each other miserable to the point of no return, providing the needed hero-and-villain side shows for which to cheer and jeer.
John Leguizamo, too, stands out as Mike’s eccentric dealer who gets caught up in night’s long journey.
Is it great? Nah. The animated ending was as equally empty to me as the finish-at-the-start beginning. But it surely entertained me for 90 of the 94 minutes.
Do you want your action movies to be on the left side of the multiplex and your comedies to be on the right? Do you have a favorite CIA action movie, and if so, why? Do you have a favorite stoner comedy, and if so, why?