‘American Ultra’ … bluntly .. is a wretched high!

Comedies in which the characters are high for the majority of the film are often funny. Action comedies can also be quite hysterical. However, when you put the two of them together, it just doesn’t seem to work. Not many studios have attempted this mix over the years. The only one that comes to mind is Pineapple Express, starring James Franco and Seth Rogan as a couple of stoners who cross a criminal gang. American Ultra continues the tradition started by Pineapple Express: neither is as funny as they aspire to be.

In American Ultra, which comes out this Friday, Mike Howell (Jessie Eisenberg) is a stoner convenience store clerk who finds out he is a CIA-trained assassin. Topher Grace plays a recently promoted CIA boss who wants to get rid of Mike and sends a tactical team to do that. Connie Britton, as the former CIA boss who headed up the program that recruited Mike, does the only thing she knows to do and activates Mike so that he can defend himself.

American Ultra is supposed to be a stoner comedy meets a violent action flick but it reality it’s even more all over the map. The picture oscillates from laughter, to love, to massive explosions to gruesome Chuck Norris-style killings. This may sound very appealing, but trust me, it’s not. It’s as if the movie itself is high and is just spouting off irrational moments in the plot … “Hey man … I love you  … I love you (splat) that I cut that guy’s head off… I’m hungry!”

American Ultra exhibited potential in the beginning of the film. I thought that casting Kristen Stewart and Jessie Eisenberg who have natural chemistry from previous films like Adventureland was a great move. However, the biggest downfall of this film may actually have been casting Kristen Stewart and Jessie Eisenberg. Jessie Eisenberg is as incontrovertible in the role of CIA assassin as I would be as a cover model for a Harlequin Romance novel. Kristen Stewart injects a rigor mortis like energy to the film that indicates to the audience that maybe they should just head for the exits.

The violence in the film is too over the top to be funny. I may not be an expert but hammers to the temple don’t lend themselves to comedy. Directed by Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) and written poorly by Max Landis, American Ultra seems distracted from the start, confused throughout, emotionally irrational until the very end. Maybe I needed to be high to enjoy this movie.

american ultra


Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.