Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

American Ultra | Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, John Leguizamo, Walton Goggins | Review

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4 Chicks Small Jacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for Lasvegasroundtheclock.com
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American Ultra | Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, John Leguizamo, Walton Goggins | Review

Long-haired stoner Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) lives with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) has panic attacks, and seems about as harmless as a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  No one is more surprised than he is when he realizes (ever so slowly, man) that he’s a lethal CIA trainee with a programmed skill set that can be activated with the right sentence.

The world’s gone mad, at least for this guy, and any attempt at Howell’s former nebbish-y normalcy just seems to be a pipe…er…pot dream.

Liman, West Virginia is the small, improbable American town that becomes the flashpoint for a CIA operation involving trained “assets”, some of them culled from mental institutions, that are actually walking weapons, wiped clean of their previous memories, trained, controlled, and activated at will.  Howell is such an asset, and when program director Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) orders his extermination, fellow agent Victoria Lassiter (Connie Britton) breaks rank to save the quiet, awkward pot-head from a legion of dispatched assassins.

Howell discovers that he can turn deadly at a moment’s notice, killing one assailant with a spoon and disabling another with hot soup.  He and Phoebe seek asylum from mutual friend Rose (John Leguizamo) a tattooed drug dealer and illegal fireworks procurer, to hide them, an endeavor that goes horribly wrong amid black lights and bloodshed.

Yates unleashes a dozen “assets” on Howell, including the particularly insane Laugher (Walton Goggins) while Lassiter trails the couple in an effort to thwart the many assassination attempts.  Meanwhile, the usually meek and mild Howell flexes his newfound resourcefulness to near super-hero levels.

Packed with dark humor and ultra-violent carnage, American Ultra ultimately manages to be a love story, albeit one with car bombs and broken teeth.  Messy and absurd, there’s a maniacal logic to the lunacy that eschews sentimentality in favor of insanity.  Any attempt at romance is swiftly followed by gunshots, explosions, and dual tasers.

Eisenberg and Stewart have an unexpected chemistry, and both demonstrate a range beyond their first cinematic coupling in 2009’s Adventureland.  Grace brings his bureaucratic d-bag to life effortlessly, and Leguizamo chews up the scenery with a paranoid macho shtick.  Britton anchors the cast as the solitary CIA operative with a conscience.

Director Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) and screenwriter Max Landis (Chronicle) braid comedy and violence with the efficiency of a graphic novel, the kind their hero scribbles into existence between joints.  The ridiculous premise, played straight by its two principals, makes for one big, long toke of a film, a trippy experience that you may find to be strangely addicting.

Just remember to exhale.