If you direct your eyes to the movie poster above, you might immediately assume that American Ultra looks like a basic action movie with B-list actors who reached their peak back in 2010. You might stumble across it while scrolling through Netflix, think to yourself, "huh, that looks stupid", and continue on your journey through endless entertaining titles. And, to be perfectly honest, your initial instinct would be correct... American Ultra tries to encompass so many film genres as a jack-of-all-trades stoner dramedy thriller, that it ultimately didn't leave me satisfied as a viewer.
The plot surrounds Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg). He's your average small town stoner deadbeat. He works in a convenience store and suffers from crippling panic attacks whenever he tries to leave Liman, West Virginia. In an opening narration, he says that the only good thing in his life is his girlfriend Phoebe Larson (Kristen Stewart), a fellow stoner companion who keeps him grounded. They've been dating for over five years and Howell is struggling with finding the right time to propose to her.
One night, while Howell is working alone, a mysterious woman (Connie Britton) enters his store. She plops down a container of yogurt at the cash and begins repeating the words "cherry progressive". These words trigger something in Howell who is suddenly awakened as a sleeper agent.
The viewer is shown earlier that this mysterious woman is named Victoria Lasseter and that she was in charge of the "Ultra" project for the CIA. When this program failed, Howell was left as the only remaining survivor. Lasseter's CIA rival, Adrian Yates (Topher Grace), is at the forefront of the new "Tough Guy" project and have made their primary objective the execution of Howell.
The plot then becomes a game of cat-n-mouse where Yates and his Tough Guys attempt to eliminate Howell who now possesses serious combat and firearm skills. Can your average stoner sleeper agent can manage to survive against an entire squad of CIA tough guys?
Where the film went wrong is mainly in the acting. Eisenberg's character failed to captivate me, personally. His awkward and hyper-apologetic demeanour quickly became annoying and made me initially question why Stewart's character would even deal (see what I did there) with him. That being said, Stewart's character wasn't much of a catch. Her line delivery was a concoction bland dialogue (as if reading straight from the script) and seemingly forced emotional pleas. On top of this, her constant annoyance with Eisenberg's character made it hard to root for them as a couple. Finally Topher Grace as the main antagonist... was reminiscent of Spider-Man 3... enough said.
The fighting action sequences were so quick that you'd miss crucial moments if you blinked. The most epic death quickly turns cheesy when Eisenberg tosses a frying pan in the air, shoots a bullet at it, that magically ricochets off the metal and straight through the Tough Guy who is trying to murder him.
Ultimately, American Ultra is an ultra underwhelming film. If you were a fan of Pineapple Express or any of the Harold and Kumar adventures... I'd recommend rewatching those instead.