Well this proved to be an interesting evening. Go to a movie, get all settled in with the nice recliners at Roadhouse Cinemas, get a drink and a pizza and start to enjoy. Then the movie pauses. We’re given some excuse of a technical difficulty. Then…5 minutes later – “So yeah there’s been a bomb threat. We need to evacuate everyone.” They handled it well. Everyone was orderly, they comped any food & drink already ordered and provided free tickets to another show. All in all – very well done. I feel sorry for the loss of revenue tonight because some kid was a jackhole (note: this is an assumption). This is the reason you are only getting one review tonight rather than two as the next available showing for this gem was at 9:45 at another theatre. So my friend and I hauled ourselves over and watched the first twenty minutes again…and that should tell you a little something already.
Now…for the rest of the story.
It is entirely likely you have never heard of American Ultra unless you saw a trailer on my facebook page the other week. It was not marketed well, or at all, yet the trailer was oddly compelling. Need a refresher?
The film was written by the same man who gave us the better parts of Chronicle, Max Landis, and directed by Project X director Nima Nourizadeh. I can’t really go in depth to their body of work as usual as I have not watched Nima’s first film; not my genre. Landis on the other hand I can talk a little more about having seen Chronicle and looking forward to his next writing project Victor Frankenstein. He seems to have a good understanding of personal interactions, humor, and action. While his pacing stutters a few times the movie has an incredible amount of heart to it for what appeared to be from the trailer a screwball, surreal, action-comedy.
It is so much more, and less, than that. Landis script gives us a reasonably well constructed almost satirical look at the action spy genre. It knows what it is and isn’t. It warmly embraces it’s absurdities. It is closer to Mr. and Mrs. Smith than it is Pineapple Express. It is a character driven movie with the two stars moving things forward in very real and very human ways. I give Landis credit here as the people in this movie are some of the most realistic and honest I have seen in a very long time. The relationship between Jesse Eisenberg’s character Mike Howell and Kristen Stewarts Phoebe Larson felt like a real relationship. The dialogue and subtle interactions that the actors, Nima, and Landis spun together put more heart into this film than probably any film in the past two months.
This isn’t to say it isn’t filled with action, because it is. This isn’t to say it isn’t surreal at times, because it is. I found myself laughing at various intentional beats in the film due to their pure absurdity and the straight man reaction of the players. The best comedy, in my opinion, is that where the people who are delivering it act as if they aren’t in on the joke. That said, there are few actual jokes and more moments that will make you laugh, make you smile, make you cry. There are more than enough scenes where you go “what the-“.
What helps here is the actors. Jesse Eisenberg (Social Network, Zombieland, Not Michael Cera…) is able to sell all the emotional roller coaster his character goes through. Partnering him with former Adventureland co-star Kristen Stewart (The Runaways, Twilight) was a good call. The two have genuine chemistry in this movie. The first twenty minutes have more ‘real talk’ and actual relationship type behaviors than any movie I have seen since If I Stay last year this time (almost to the date). That takes a lot of skill, subtlety, and more acting than people give Kristen Stewart, or Eisenberg, credit for. While Twilight has earned her much in the way of mocking, it also did not provide her a lot to work with and if this is the potential for the young actor, then I am happy to support her in future films – you should be too. As an aside I have an interest in seeing Adventureland now.
From a technical standpoint the movie is ok. Again there’s something just off about the pacing, but that might be intentional to allow some of the more awkward moments to sell. Some fights we get shaky cam, others we don’t. Obviously the ones without are superior. The make up work is solid for the injuries building throughout the film and looks as believable as the bloodsplatter looks ridiculously over the top. It isn’t Hammer films bad, but you know what you are seeing and aren’t seeing.
I frequently say in this section that the most successful films are those that evoke emotion. This made me tear up once or twice. It made me laugh a lot more. More than that though? It made me smile. It’s been a few weeks since I truly had a movie that I just found myself relaxing and enjoying through and through. It was a comfortable, fun little ride that I would probably go on again if asked. It’s also nice in a summer of sequels, remakes, reimaginings, and reboots to see and be able to celebrate an original property.
If the trailer above intrigued you , I would ask that you go see this movie this weekend. Don’t wait. Studios rarely care little beyond the actuals of the first weekend. With next to no movies coming up for a full month that look to be worth anything – give this one your time.
If you weren’t intrigued by the trailer or were put off by it, I understand. This won’t be the movie for you; so don’t try to defy the odds.
I am glad I got a chance to see this one tonight, make a chance for yourself.