Cinematic Releases: American Ultra

American Ultra is one of the high-lights of the summer. See what I did there?

"Whoa. Enter The Void, man."

While Chronicle director Josh Trank wallows in defeat over the critical and commercial failure of his troubled production of Fantastic Four, screenwriter Max Landis scores another hit with the new romantic action sci-fi comedy American Ultra

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristin Stewart and Topher Grace, it has the blueprints of Chronicle all over the plot but the cinematic design of films like Zombieland or The Cabin in the Woods, comic thrillers with many unexpected twists and turns quick to shift tone and even genre.  Where Chronicle utilized the found footage aesthetic, American Ultra takes a straightforward but visually exciting approach with many first person point of view sequences reminiscent of Douglas Trumbull's Brainstorm and an eclectic electronic soundtrack of both original and preexisting music overseen by Spring Breakers' Randall Poster.  Overtly a pure popcorn flick, American Ultra is pleasantly surprising for inventiveness, characters you learn to care about and a sharp sense of humor navigating the superhuman mayhem ensuing. 

Jesse Eisenberg, God love him, seems destined to play difficult and even unlikeable protagonists and the nervous fidgeting, snide dismissiveness and geek demeanor are all on display here although his physical appearance seems to change with the film's shifty structure.  Kristin Stewart on the other hand gives Eisenberg a fierce fighter with fire and heart who more than holds her own.  While Eisenberg might be the main star, its Stewart who arguably upstages the film's lead with a performance so far removed from the bloodlessmess of Stephanie Meyer's Belle you would be hard pressed to think this is the same actress.  Topher Grace on the other hand, while dedicated with a certain degree of command, is a basically thankless heavy designed to give Eisenberg and Stewart a ruthless villain to flee.  It's a one note performance but it gets the job done.  American Ultra also provides a hefty amount of cameo surprises best left experienced blind going in, adding to the film's charming unpredictability.

"Holy crap. Look at the size
of that thing!"
Aesthetically, the production and filmmaking values were very colorful and even fluorescent with key sequences lit in a way that seems to glisten.  As an action packed comedy, some viewers might be taken aback by the startling and often out of nowhere moments of extreme violence.  There were moments where I wasn't sure whether or not the fight sequences were a send up of The Raid: Redemption or channeling that film's edge.  That said, you can tell very clearly who the captain steering the ship of Chronicle was.  All the energetic spirit of that film is pure Landis who seems destined for greater things than the director who brought it to life.  In the recent slew of summer action flicks, American Ultra is a winner for being an enjoyable pop entertainment proving once again the geeks are often the most unforseeable superheroes.  


-Andrew Kotwicki

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