American Ultra - What were they on when they made this film? 2 stars

Something very weird is happening to me: I keep killing people! There's a chance I may be... a robot! - Mike Howell

Walking into the cinema...                
Think of regular marijuana smokers being secret government agents. It is either an incredibly original concept or a potential debacle. 

Overall Rating: 2 stars
Cinematic rating: 1.5 stars 
Bigger questions rating: 2 stars

         Liman, West Virginia. If the CIA wanted to hide someone in one of the most non-decrepit towns in America, there are few that are more obscure. This is where Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) lives a mediocre existence as a teller at the local convenience store. His time is spent drawing his latest graphic novel ideas and smoking weed with his girlfriend, Pheobe (Kristen Stewart). Their days are a blur of neurosis, drugs and confronting their boredom in Liman. Meanwhile, a few kilometres away in Langley, Virginia at the CIA headquarters, a battle of the super agents is brewing. Former lead agent, Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton), comes to the realisation that her main rival, Adrian Yates (Topher Grace), is about to eliminate one of her top-secret operatives. An agent who has had his memory wiped clean and is living with his handler in Liman, West Virginia. Unaware of the agency tension or that he is the remaining agent from a failed project called American Ultra, Mike goes on with his uninspiring stoner lifestyle of drawing monkeys and living with Phoebe. Then Victoria arrives in Liman to save his life and intentionally triggers a series of events that bring his quiet existence under fire. From one simple quotation from Victoria, this obscure town in West Virginia becomes the battleground for an internal war between CIA agents, a crew of psychotic killers and the recently re-activated Mike Howell. The plan to eliminate Mike and Phoebe becomes a disturbingly, funny misadventure of self awareness and misguided CIA infighting.
       If Liman, West Virginia can be the battlefield for a CIA war, it is not too far of a stretch to consider Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) as a trained killing machine. His journey to awareness was reminiscent of Jason Bourne trying to find his identity, but without the masculinity and gravitas of Matt Damon. Eisenberg and Stewart are convincing as stoners, but believing they are CIA lethal weapons is not an easy pill to swallow. They manage to portray the humorous component of this concept, but never managed to be convincing as their assassin alter egos. The story does have promise with the inclusion of their support cast members, but the strong supporting cast members cannot save the fate of this misguided adventure. Interestingly, the only cast member that adds to the film is Topher Grace (Spiderman 3). He seems wiling to go outside his comfort zone he plays in previous films and is convincing as the smarmy CIA leader. Yet, even with a convincing villain, this story never achieves the goals of entertainment. 
         After a relatively slow start, the film does quickly kick into fifth gear with Mike's awareness of his abilities. Director Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) attempts to make up for the slow start by introducing a multitude of characters, but this strategy rapidly causes him to lose the plot. This bevy of characters make for a muddled mess. After awhile, trying to keep track of all of the different story components resembles the experiences of the lead characters as they partake of the available hallucinogens. In the right hands, American Ultra could have led to hyper-violent hilarity on the level of a Quentin Tarantino film, but the key to that statement is 'in the right hands.' Nourizadeh struggles to find his own identity as a director. He is given original and creative characters with unique plot twists that divert from the traditional secret agent theme, but he wastes the opportunity. Understandably, directors borrow from others for inspiration, but the better film makers add their own signature and this never materialises with in this drug influenced journey. Nourizadah seems to travel between Christopher Nolan's Momento and Tarantino's Kill Bill to he even giving a nod to Total Recall, but he never manages to make the film his own. For all of its possibilities, American Ultra is reminiscent of those who chose to smoke marijuana, it is a waste of braincells that leads to nothing but regret and maybe an excuse for popcorn munchies. It had promise, but never reaches potential. 
Leaving the cinema...
The talent and the story were wasted, literally and figuratively. The film had potential, but it was a waste of time. 

Reel Dialogue: What are some of the bigger considerations from this film? 
1. What does the Bible say about illegal drugs? (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, 1 Peter 5:8)
2. How should we respond to violent acts against others? (Psalm 11:5, Matthew 5:38-39)
3. Can we control our thoughts? (Mark 7:20-22, Philippians 4:8)

Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #americanultra