Are Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart destined to play the same character for all time?
Going into American Ultra I was unsure what to expect from these two young stars. I was hoping for something new and fresh from actors often typecast by their roles in films like Twilight and The Social Network. Could the direction of Project X main man Nima Nourizadeh and writing of Chronicle’s Max Landis breath fresh life into actors at the turning point and give us a fresh agent film in an unprecedented year for espionage movies.
Mike (Eisenberg) and Phoebe Larson (Stewart) are an awkward, socially disconnected and introverted couple that find themselves muddled into a world of unexplainable violence after Mike gets a visit from Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton), a CIA Agent who activates the sleeper agent inside him. As the couple attempts to figure out what is happening to them they are hunted by goons sent by Lasseter’s rival, Agent Yates (Topher Grace), who is attempting to neutralize Mike at any cost. As Yates’ hunts down Mike we are given a series of unnecessarily violent scenes with no real purpose that adds no momentum to the piece. We jump from scene to scene where we are given tiny snippets of backstory which we are expected to piece together to varying success.
Visually, many of the scenes take place darkly lit environments, made worse by blooming clouds of hazy pot smoke. Dim lit and hazy seems to be as deep as the director chose to go with the characters. Their one dimensional nature means the chemistry between the characters is questionable with only a small glimpse of real compassion between Mike and a fellow subject Laugher. However even this scene leaves you little more than confused.
Topher Grace's performance is possibly one of the better in the film. Playing the villain juxtaposed against motherly Connie Britton you really see the cold detached cruel human he is shining through. However Eisenberg, Stewart and the rest of the cast struggle to get beyond their one dimensional characters. These are things we have seen before and done much better, even just this year with Jason Statham’s sarcastic agent from “Spy.”
Understanding the film is meant to be a blend between action and comedy there are very few laughs. We are given the same old awkward Eisenberg situations that we have scene in films like Zombieland and Adventureland (where ironically Eisenberg and Stewart played the same awkward style couple). With the same schtick being dragged out, each joke falls flat, the brief moments of comedy aren’t enough to salvage the film.
After an hour and a half I came to disappointing realisation that we are only going to get the same old wet blanket characters that Jesse and Kristen have played time after time in a film that doesn’t give much more than cheap thrills. American Ultra is a play by numbers youth friendly film that fails to deliver on much of the potential in its cast, crew and concept.