Friday, August 21, 2015

American Ultra Review: High On Surprise and Delight

The genres of comedy and action are never a rare thing to see on the silver screen, but it is not too often that we see a movie that embodies both types of film.  Action-comedies have had an impact on the movie world with the various films making an  impression with moviegoers. However due to the contrast between the genres it can be tricky make an effective action-comedy; but that does not seem to stop filmmakers from making new additions to this sub genre. Such is the case is the newest film from Lionsgate: American Ultra. Directed by Nima Nourizadeh, American Ultra takes the idea of crazy action and mixes it with the concep of a stoner comedy. In the case of this adventurer, seeing another stoner comedy hitting theater was not too thrilling; but I suppose one could always be surprised. So is American Ultra a film that stands as both an action and a comedy, or does this film's chances go up in smoke?

The story of American Ultra follows the stoner Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg). Living in a small town with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), things are quite content  for the couple. However everything changes when CIA Agent Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) comes to warn Mike that Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) is sending operatives  to kill the young man.  Mike soon discovers that   he is more than able to handle the opposing forces. It turns out that Mike is a sleeper agent trained to deal with any situation. As things drastically get crazier, Mike and Phoebe must survive the night before the CIA catches up with them and terminates the couple.

The plot of American Ultra was both straightforward and surprising. The story does stayed true to its concepts and that turned out to be both a advantage and disadvantage for the film. Themes such as the main character being a stoner was approached,surprisingly, in a subtle way oppose to being over the top. While this was indeed refreshing this direction did hurt the presentation to an extent; especially when it came to the film's comedic side. The other issue I had was the plot's pacing. The pacing was too quick for its own good.  It was not impossible to follow the story, but it did make it hard for certain elements to  find their strides. However, even with the issues, there was much to like about American Ultra's plot.The twists and directions to this wild story had me both intrigued and entertained. So while it may not have been a flawless story, American Ultra still had a plot that was fitting for both  the action and comedy genres.

Like the plot, the cast was also filled with surprises; particularly when it came to the two leads. Both Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart had fantastic performances as Mike and Phoebe. Rather then coming off as just a stoned protagonist, Mike was likable as his personality and development seemed genuine. Kristen Stewart, much to my relief, played a character that was both interesting and (just like Mike) likable. Topher Grace as Adrien Yates was ridiculous; but in a good way. Though he could get out of hand, Topher's over the top performances made for a fairly comedic antagonist. The film also had a solid supporting cast featuring the likes of Connie Britton, Tony Hale, Walton Goggins and John Leguizamo. Though they not have been the most memorable characters, each of the supporting cast members did a solid job in their respective roles. Add the likes of Bill Pullman and have cast that had a lot to offer to the likes of American Ultra.

When dealing with an action-comedy it can be hard to find the right blend for both elements to work in the favor of the film's presentation. Yet in the case of American Ultra ,it did have a sense of action as much it  a sense of humor. The comedy to this film was quite subtle. With the film's concept I expected an over the top comedy of errors that would be riddled with drug jokes; but that was not the case. Instead what I saw was a movie that intended to be funny, but it knew how to effectively use its humor. This approach was quite refreshing as it created an atmosphere that I could be both compelled and entertained by. The only issue with the comedy was that it could be too subtle. By this I mean that the humor,though it could be funny, needed a sense of timing to be truly effective. When it came to the action the element did feel right for the overall film. Perhaps it could have been more creative but the action of American Ultra was still effective; especially in the film's climax. The film's technical elements like music and cinematography were good but none of those elements left a major impression on me. In the end, I felt that the movie's direction did a good job to blend both action and comedy; though perhaps both factors could have had a stronger approach.

It may not have been a game changer but American Ultra was definitely a surprise. The film's subtle take in the likes of storytelling and character development made for a dynamic and entertaining time at the movies. Though I may not be a fan of the likes of stoner comedies, I can take off my hat to a movie that does deserve credit; and I am very pleased to give that respect to American Ultra.

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