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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

American Ultra movie review: Bourne to lose

American Ultra yellow light John Leguizamo

It’s one joke dragged out for 90 minutes, and while it’s not entirely unamusing, the comedy feels mired in the same stoner fog as its slacker protagonist.
I’m “biast” (pro): like Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It’s one joke — stoner slacker Jesse Eisenberg is actually a sleeper badass covert operative, har har — dragged out for 90 minutes. And while it’s not entirely unamusing, the fact that the trailer tells the same story in two minutes and doesn’t feature any fewer jokes than the film itself tells you all you need to know. Mike Howell (Eisenberg: Rio 2) suffers from panic attacks, a kind of agoraphobia that doesn’t allow him to leave his small West Virginia town, and a complete and utter lack of ambition. But life isn’t too bad, because he has an absolutely perfect girlfriend, Phoebe Larson (Kristen Stewart: Still Alice), who is tolerant to the point of saintliness of his many problems and hangups. Director Nima Nourizadeh — in a much better followup to his first movie, the execrable Project X — and screenwriter Max Landis (Chronicle) seem to be under the same sort of stoner fog as Mike, never quite able to ramp up to truly clever levels the SF-ish conspiracy comedy as Mike gets activated in unauthorized fashion in order to defend himself against an even more unauthorized liquidation; a wickedly twitchy Topher Grace (Interstellar) and a surprisingly droll Connie Britton (The Fitzgerald Family Christmas), as warring CIA agents battling over Mike and his deadly talents, are crying out for a better movie in which to strut their comedic action chops. The overall upshot is of yet another fantasy reassurance aimed at the only audience Hollywood appears to care about at the moment: Don’t worry, boys and young men ages 13 to 24, if you’re a stoner fuckup with no goals and no idea what to do with your life. Not only is this situation probably not your fault, there’s a good chance you may be some sort of highly trained and highly awesome killing machine. Wouldn’t that be neat?

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of American Ultra for its representation of girls and women.

yellow light 2.5 stars

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American Ultra (2015)
US/Can release: Aug 21 2015
UK/Ire release: Sep 04 2015

MPAA: rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, drug use and some sexual content
BBFC: rated 15 (strong bloody violence, strong language, drugs use)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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