You’d never guess that Jesse Eisenberg could be an effective action hero but the moment he begins to dispatch enemies, you won’t help but smile. It is actually quite impressive how Eisenberg convincingly takes out faceless henchman after faceless henchman. It is just one part of the charm that American Ultra has, even though it is a movie that has been done many times before. The defining factor in American Ultra could just be the cast.
Eisenberg is great in this movie. His flip between stoner and super-soldier is a great one and he plays both parts very well. Most of the humour is in how clueless this man is, especially in amongst the crazy action sequences. Eisenberg manages to do sweet, lovable, charming and kick-ass in one package.
The second surprise of the cast is Kristen Stewart. It may have helped her bank balance but the Twilight movies unfortunately tarnished Stewart with an unfair reputation as a slight, dull, one note actress. Both Still Alice and now this movie have begun to show more strings to the underrated actress’ bow and I hope a decent, career (re)defining movie is on it’s way. She is the perfect foil to Eisenberg’s stoner and also gets some kick-ass moments of her own. The chemistry between the two keeps you rooting for their story when moments get a little crazy.
The final piece to this perfect casting puzzle is Topher Grace. He is another actor who deserves more from his career and has made some poor choices because he can be great. Here he gets to play a slimy, stuffed-shirt villain who gets to do and say some of the best stuff in the movie. It must have been fun for Grace to play because he seems to be revelling in every word, foul action and chewing the scenery with every moment he is on-screen.
To back up the colourful characters is the great action. The way in which Eisenberg dispatches his enemies is creative and effectively shot. From the first moments involving a spoon to the great set-piece, framed to look like one single shot, in the large supermarket. It is in this final set-piece that some great ingenuity and choreography with household appliances is put to good use. The film is gory too, very gory.
In fact, it isn’t many films that will show the nasty effects of a beating but this film doesn’t hold back. It is the charm of the film that the characters we see at the beginning of the film look nothing like themselves when they reach a battered, bruised and beaten end.
Unfortunately, great action, great casting and some funny moments won’t save the film from feeling very familiar. It is a story we have seen many times before, from Total Recall to Bourne Identity and so forth. A normal guy discovering a special set of skills is a solid action movie staple and this film doesn’t do much to distinguish itself. It’s normal guy is probably more normal than usual but it is still the same, basic premise.
Overall, American Ultra offers a great cast, some playing well against type, performing some very violent, cool and creative action sequences. Topher Grace stands out as the movies villain, enjoying every moment but you won’t quite be able to shake the feeling that you’ve seen it all before.
Rating – 3.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)