Movie Reviews & Interviews from Washington

‘American Ultra’ Review: Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart & Bill Pullman

In 2009, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart were both starting to break out as actors. He starred in Zombieland and Adventureland, which also starred Stewart, and she had two Twilight films under her belt with three more to go. Their best performances were yet to come in 2010’s The Social Network and 2013’s The Double for Eisenberg and with 2014’s Camp X-Ray and Clouds of Sils Maria for Stewart. Seeing these two actors share the screen again in this stoner action thriller comedy is the perfect way to reunite them. Taking a break from more dramatic roles, Eisenberg and Stewart are excellent in American Ultra, written by Max Landis and directed by Nima Nourizadeh.

Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) lives in small-town West Virginia with his long-time girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart). Mike works as a cashier at the local convenience store and his favorite pastime is getting high and laying around with Phoebe. Mike wants to take the next step with Phoebe, but knows he is unmotivated and has chronic panic attacks; he doesn’t want to hold Phoebe back.

What Mike doesn’t know is that he is a secret government agent, part of the Ultra program. When Mike is targeted for extermination, CIA agent Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) is working against her director’s wishes to help me. Mike and Phoebe must figure out how to run from the CIA while he begins to learn about all of his new capabilities as a highly trained agent.

america ultra jesse eisenberg

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart seem to have a lot of fun together here as Mike and Phoebe. Their romantic chemistry is sweet and real and it’s what carries the whole story. The film does have its fair share of action and comedy but the underlying theme is the love between Mike and Phoebe and how much they care about each other.

Whether Max Landis made this intentional or not, he pays homage to several films and TV shows including True Romance, Chuck and Orphan Black. Between Mike’s red Hawaiian shirt and a few key scenes near the end of the film, Mike is sporting Clarence from True Romance. The Chuck references are almost too similar with American Ultra being the same premise as Chuck and even the editing and music is like the cult favorite TV show. Only a true Chuck fan would notice though!

The film is full of great supporting performances from Connie Britton as the caring yet fierce CIA agent with great hair, Topher Grace as her menacing boss (I enjoyed watching their relationship), John Leguizmo in a particularly hilarious and stand-out role as Mike’s drug dealer Rose, Tony Hale as the CIA agent who is trying to help Victoria and Walton Goggins as the Laugher, a psychotic killer set to take out Mike. All the actors really do their part to make the film hilarious.

American Ultra works better as an action thriller more so than your typical stoner comedy. Yes, there are some funny moments, but the action sequences, especially the one at the end in the Max’s store, are super violent, but fun and exciting. Eisenberg and Stewart make a sweet pair to watch on screen and Max Landis proves again that he can pen an interesting screenplay.

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