American Ultra is, essentially, a stoner Bourne Identity. A normal guy with vague memories of his past accidentally comes to realize that he’s a trained killer. While that premise has been done before, framing it within the guise of a couple of stoners just trying to live their lives in West Virginia adds a fresh new twist to the concept.
It takes its time to get there, though. Building up to the first action sequence is a slow process. There are inklings that something bigger is at play here, but the film doesn’t show its hand yet. Like the characters played by Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, you’re left with very little knowledge of what the hell’s going on.
The two of them are pretty good in this movie. A lot of the internet has a problem with Kristen Stewart, but that’s mostly just a product of her association with Twilight. She’s proved herself to be a very capable actress in other movies, like Adventureland and Still Alice, and she’s good here. I usually have a bigger problem with Jesse Eisenberg, who seems to always play characters with the same attitude in everything. I didn’t love him here, but he’s fine.
The real stars of the show are the supporting performances from Connie Britton (clear eyes, full hearts, always bet on Mrs. Coach), Walton Goggins, and John Leguizamo. All three are far more entertaining than the leads, and each brings humor and LIFE to the screen in ways the leads really can’t.
All of this in a script penned by Max Landis! I forgot/didn’t know that he wrote this movie until the credits came on, but it was at this point that everything made sense. American Ultra features a ton of cliches you’d expect to find in this sort of movie, but they don’t come when you expect. The timeline is accelerated. Landis knows what he’s doing here, and he’s playing against expectations. It’s like he says, “Yeah, you know there’s a plot twist coming, so here it is. Now let’s move on.”
American Ultra is not the best movie of the year. It’s not the most violent, and it’s not the most stylized, either. But it’s a fresh take on a familiar idea and definitely worth watching. The first act is slow, but once the action picks up, it’s pretty continuous until the end. American Ultra is worth your time.