"Agent Howell has been activated. He killed two operatives with a spoon."Since the early nineties days of ‘Dazed and Confused’ or the Coens bizarre noir pushing ‘The Big Lebowski’ there hasn’t really been a great stoner comedy. Maybe studios are afraid of receiving negative backlash by portraying drugs in a more humorous light, maybe we just grew out of them, or maybe they were all killed by Danny Boyle’s ‘Trainspotting’ and its grim depiction of drugs and I’m sure ‘Requiem for a Dream’ didn’t help. Regardless, can ‘American Ultra’ revive the genre?
A store clerk (Jesse Eisenberg) who enjoys drawing comic books in his spare time is confronted by two government officials. Then he begins to realise that he has hidden abilities he was not aware of and with the help of his stoner friend (Kristen Stewart) they go on the run and try to find a solution.
One thing that is hard to come across in recent years is a film that can sustain itself on cult status. Many have tried but only by going completely over the top and self-indulgent like the Asylum movies. But you know what, I would definitely brand ‘American Ultra as a cult film in the making. There are numerous issues with the film and multiple disordered aspects but through all of it there was a great sense of fun to be had from it. It almost seems to embrace it, not quite on a self-indulgent level but more in tune with knowing your flaws and accepting them rather than just multiplying the few things that work.
Eisenberg and Stewart have worked together in comedies before such as ‘Adventureland’ but that was much more of a coming of age comedy rather than one of this audacity. I say that because in many ways what ‘American Ultra’ is extremely impudent in its visuals and overall tone. The editing is visceral and done with a sense of extreme rapidity. Like I said, it seems to be aware of its own issues and instead of trying to fix them, simply resorts to quickening the pace in an effort to distract the audience from any flaws while they’re in the cinema. Normally this would be an issue and I could look down and smirk and point out as many plot holes as I could. But I have to admit their tactic kind of worked, at least while I was sat in the cinema, I was just entertained by it.
But going back to Eisenberg and Stewart, they were both pretty good. Obviously when I say that I’m not talking about something that would be deemed acceptable in any other film. But here it seems to work as Eisenberg is convincing as a confused and hapless clerk that goes from living an aimless and talentless life to being Jason Bourne. Kristen Stewart meanwhile is also surprisingly decent, conveying some shock and horror but on a comedic level.
But as I said, if this was any other film I would definitely be inclined to talk about the issues within the actual plot and pacing of the film. It is just a complete mess and verges on being utterly incomprehensible. It does so to such an extent that in scenes that are trying to be serious and dramatic involving the government officials feel like they’re from a completely different movie and aren’t actually that entertaining. It takes on more of a satirical tone that doesn’t quite fit with the overall tone of the film.
So what can I really say about ‘American Ultra’? I honestly don’t know as there are literally hundreds of flaws within the central structure and plot but honestly it just doesn’t matter. There are cartoonish sensibilities with a stoner action comedy that certainly entertains but unless you’re willing to sit back and forget about tedious things like sensibility it might wear thin. But as I said, a cult film in the making? Probably.