AmericanUltraAmerican Ultra definitely fits the bill for mindless end of summer entertainment that comes with low expectations from audiences and critics alike. However, upon further inspection while it’s outlandish and cartoonishly violent there’s also a curious romantic quality about Ultra that has yet to be seen in a film this summer. Could this film be one of the more unusual, and engaging love stories to come out this year?

True to form most August movies have a reputation for being the bottom of the barrel for summer blockbusters. Last years Guardians of the Galaxy was a mild exception, but it’s the time where studios usually dump films that will tide audiences over from the overwhelming flood of movies that have been churned out since May. Recently Fantastic Four was at the mercy of this no mans land release date where it landed with a thud against Tom Cruise’s Rogue Nation. In the shadow of that studio fiasco Nima Nouriszadeh’s stoner action romp American Ultra is one worth seeing.

At heart you it’s a send up to the Jason Bourne action movies, but instead of the beefy militaristic Matt Damon put in a twenty-something slacker in its lead role. Our main character Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) is introduced to us at the film’s start working at a convenient store, and going to home to his beautiful girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) where they spend their time together getting stoned on the couch. Mike and Phoebe have an effortless charm to them – with much thanks to both Eisenberg and Stewart’s laid back performances. After all are there are two actors working today that can play stoners better than these two can? These are the roles they were born to play.


Suddenly Mike and Phoebe’s bong dependent world is turned upside down when Mike is revealed to be a lethal sleeper agent for the CIA. Suddenly he’s thrust into the middle of a deadly government operation, and is forced to beckon his inner action-hero in order to survive with Phoebe by his side. Connie Britton plays CIA operative who is looking out to save Mike from getting assassinated by a smarmy CIA department head played by Topher Grace.

At the surface it’s a standard action movie, but what really makes it special is how well Esienberg and Stewart play off each other. The Adventureland duo makes the silly material work. When secrets are revealed about the couple’s past it adds an interesting extra layer to the relationship. Writing as a stanch apologist for Kristen Stewart’s post-Twilight film career she’s stunning to see in this role. With The Social Network, and the upcoming Dawn of Justice I have a feeling that Jessie Esienberg will make a career out of playing fringe misfits like the character he plays here.

While the storytelling of American Ultra may go off the rails in some scenes it helps that it is in the hands of talented filmmakers. The film is written by Max Landis (yep that’s John Landis’s son) who helped breath some fresh air into the alternative superhero genre with Chronicle a few years ago. The terrific soundtrack, and beautiful camera work is also a major bonus. Rounding out the cast is Connie Britton, Tony Hale, and John Leguizamo  in a memorable supporting roles.

While American Ultra may not revitalize action movies it sure is a lot of fun. It’s a film filled with oddly romantic turns for its violent material, and has two very charming performances. While I’m not sure if it will fully find connect with an audience in theaters it could become a future cult classic.