Walking into the screening of American Ultra I heard a couple of viewers wondering if the movie would be a lot like Adventureland, the last movie in which Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart played the leads together. Quick answer? No. No it is not. Maybe had Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig turned out to be spies on a mission to kill their new amusement park employee, but I’m going to take a hard pass on that comparison.
In actuality American Ultra is somewhere closer to the unassuming title character of Chuck gaining the powers of a well trained spy when given appropriate stimuli, reverting back to his original neurotic and freaked out normal person status. Now mix in the action/comedy blend of Kingsman: The Secret Service and we get a little bit closer to what American Ultra is, if you swap out the all around BA Samuel L. Jackson reveling in the excitement of being the bad guy for Topher Grace. That’s right, Topher Grace is the bad guy of this movie, a man that I still see as the best friend of the hot girl in Win A Date With Tad Hamilton. That, and Venom.
If a movie is willing to cast Grace as the antagonist who decides to kill a sleeper agent who has never shown any signs of being a threat to the small American town he’s regularly stoned in, then clearly it isn’t taking itself too seriously. However, don’t expect a montage of heads exploding in a wave of patriotic glory. Things never reach that level of WTF hilarity, but there is still an agent sent in to kill Eisenberg who goes by the codename The Laugher, there is still a scene in which the seriousness of Eisenberg and Stewart’s situation is downplayed by their glowing chipmunk teeth under a black light, and there is still John Leguizamo somehow getting away with this ridiculous and stereotypical portrayal of the minority gangster drug dealer.
In addition to simply getting to see Connie Britton hold a gun bigger than her arm, the main draw is getting to see Eisenberg in the lead. He handles all sides of his character well, taking things further than he does in Zombieland. He is easy to love as the normal guy lacking confidence, but even as he is mostly laughably freaking out at this unbelievable situation he has fallen into, Eisenberg is given moments of both sincerity and violent action sequences (one that is up there with Colin Firth’s church sequence in Kingsman) that really show off all of what he is capable of. I’m not saying I am any more accepting as his casting as Lex Luthor in the upcoming Batman vs Superman, but I can’t deny just how talented of an actor he is. Stewart bounces off of him well as a semi “straight man” keeping calm in reaction to whatever Eisenberg throws at her, and there are a bunch of moments between them in which I was able to really appreciate what Max Landis put down when he wrote the script. I was a little bummed when Stewarts’s character arc becomes predictable, but she still gets her moments later on to make it all worth it. That said, this is still definitely Eisenberg’s movie.
The final scenes of American Ultra did have me groaning a bit, and I can see where some people may not quite like the movie for its tone and, well, a lot of stuff about it, but I found the enjoyment in all of it. Heck, even my mom like it, surprisingly enough. If you ask me, that’s a sure sign you should see it if you were on the fence. The rest of you know where you’ll fall.