“American Ultra” Movie Review

This wacky action flick has its ups and downs, but generally finds itself on top.


Brock Burnett

Director Nima Nourizadeh, known for directing “Project X”, has just released his next big movie, and while it’s an improvement from his last work, “American Ultra” is still far from being a blockbuster movie.

The story is fairly simple. Mike Howell, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is a stoner who lives in a small town in West Virginia with his girlfriend Phoebe, played by Kristen Stewart. Howell lives a fairly normal life, working at the local convenience store. As the story progresses, Howell becomes targeted by the CIA after he attempts to leave West Virginia. After multiple close calls, he learns that he was essentially a sleeper agent for a failed CIA experiment. The CIA dumped him in West Virginia after wiping his memory in an attempt to assimilate him back into society. Howell spends a majority of the film fighting off CIA operatives who want to murder him in order to wipe any evidence of the failed experiment.

Let’s start off with what Nourizadeh does well. There’s no lack of action in “American Ultra”. With Howell fighting his way through CIA assets who are out to kill him, expect violence galore. The fight scenes are interesting throughout the movie, and I feel like each one has one innovative piece to it. There’s not really a standard hand-to-hand scene, and I enjoyed it. I thought the fight scenes were fresh and interesting. The sheer amount of violence and gore is similar to “Kingsman”. With this being an action/comedy film, Nourizadeh does a good job making sure the action is engaging and exciting.

The casting is also pretty decent. Eisenberg does a really great job of playing the dopey, frail sleeper agent. His chemistry with Stewart is also decently believable. They play off of each other well enough, and the emotion between the two of them seems genuine. I was thoroughly surprised that the non-action sequences of the movie held my attention. I think the movie’s ability to do so is supported mainly by the great cast. Topher Grace also plays a major role, and he does a really great job at being the smug villain type. Overall, the casting in this movie was strong, with good chemistry found between the main couple.

The one main part I had a fault with was the plot. Maybe it’s a flaw with most action movies; I’m no action movie buff, so I wouldn’t know. The storyline just seemed very jolting. Things would just arise suddenly with not much reason. It just seemed somewhat flat. I can’t exactly say what it was, but something about the story just left me wanting more. I wanted them to delve a bit deeper into the story. It stays very surface level, and with a run time of 99 minutes, there’s no reason to devote some extra time to flesh out some of the plot points. The story just seemed kinda messy.

The plot of the story has similar flaws that I found in the entirety of the movie. The genre of the movie can’t really be defined. I refer to it as an “action/comedy” earlier, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s an action/dark comedy/quirky romance/stoner/secret agent movie. It really shouldn’t work out, as there’s so much going on at once. Somehow, I thought it worked fairly well though. The blending of all the different genres seems to be natural. I personally think the romantic aspect found between Eisenberg’s character and Stewart’s character is one of the stronger aspects of the film, just due to their chemistry.

Overall, “American Ultra” was a surprisingly decent mix of a lot of movie types that shouldn’t really work together. The only complaint I had was the lack of depth in the story considering how short the movie was. The story seemed like it never really found itself. However, with a solid cast with nice chemistry, and a fresh take on the extreme violence often seen in action movies, “American Ultra” left me with a generally positive feeling.


Grade: C+