American Ultra (2015)

2016 #119
Nima Nourizadeh | 92 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA & Switzerland / English & Mandarin | 15 / R

American UltraStoner comedies aren’t really my thing, but something about American Ultra — which is often pithily described as “Pineapple Express meets The Bourne Identity” — piqued my interest nonetheless. Partly it’s that Bourne comparison, obviously; partly it’s Jesse Eisenberg choosing to lead an action movie at this point in his career; mostly it’s the reception the film received: critics largely slagged it off, and audiences too, but there’s a noteworthy strand of people who enjoyed it. Sometimes the films with the niche fan base are the best films, and sometimes they’re the worst films. American Ultra is neither, merely settling somewhere between the two.

Max Landis’ wish-fulfilment screenplay (by which I mean Max Landis’ screenplay is about fulfilling Max Landis’ wishes) sees Jesse Eisenberg as a laggard stoner who turns out to be a CIA sleeper agent with Bourne-esque abilities, which are revealed when the director of a rival CIA programme (Topher Grace) sets out to kill him and anyone who stands in their way, including girlfriend Kristen Stewart.

Those aforementioned fans praise it for being original and different, but I don’t see where they got that from — it’s a Bourne clone with added comedy. And by comedy I don’t even Duuudereally mean it’s funny (there are two or three laughs, tops), just that it has a less serious tone. Even if you want to claim the Bourne similarities are just one facet, the film as a whole feels generally reminiscent of any number of low/medium-budget action flicks. It’s not bad, it passes the time, but original or exceptional? No.

3 out of 5

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