‘American Ultra’: The Reviews Are In, Quirky, Genre-Bending Tale Or Movie That Gets Lost In Its Own Twist?

Alanna Vopni - Author
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Aug. 19 2015, Updated 8:24 p.m. ET

American Ultra has released several trailers, including a red band trailer showing a lot more of its bloody violence. But now that opening weekend is looming, what have we learned about the film from the critics and the stars themselves?

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The Critics

Lionsgate Pictures published the synopsis for the Max Landis (Chronicle)-penned and Nima Nourizadeh (Project X)-directed film on the comic-inspired and heavily interactive webpage for American Ultra.

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American Ultra is a fast-paced action comedy about Mike (Jesse Eisenberg), a seemingly hapless and unmotivated stoner whose small-town life with his live-in girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), is suddenly turned upside down. Unbeknownst to him, Mike is actually a highly trained, lethal sleeper agent. In the blink of an eye, as his secret past comes back to haunt him, Mike is thrust into the middle of a deadly government operation and is forced to summon his inner action-hero in order to survive.”

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It hasn’t had a chance to garner a lot of reviews yet but from the key media people who have seen it, the reviews are mixed.

Andrew Barker from Variety feels American Ultra clings too tightly to a graphic novel pretense.

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“[American Ultra] too often plays like an earnest yet unsatisfying adaptation of a cult graphic novel, with most of the charm lost in translation.”

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But Amy Nicholson from L.A. Weekly has a different and more upbeat review on the genre-bending aspects of the American Ultra.

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“A bloody valentine attached to a bomb. [American Ultra]’s violent, brash, inventive and horrific, and perhaps the most romantic film of the year.”

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While Todd McCarthy of the Hollywood Reporterenjoyed the movie a little, at least to a point.

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“[American Ultra is] a genre mash that’s mildly amusing until it can’t think of anything else to do besides flop around in the deep end of conspicuous gore.”

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And finally, Leah Greenblatt from Entertainment Weekly may have, in her review for American Ultra, the best advice for every movie.

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“Check your brain at the popcorn-butter pump in the lobby and enjoy it.”

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Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart

Collider interviewed both Eisenberg and Stewart about their takes on American Ultra while they were still filming the movie.

Stewart talked about the juxtaposition of stoner kids being thrust into a world of action and death neither one of them are supposed to know anything about.

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“I think the basic idea, before it was actually a real thing, was that if you take the most unlikely people, like two dinky little stoner kids, Jesse and me, and then suddenly see them thrown into this really high-speed, and intense, and disarmingly realistic action movie, it’s funny. It doesn’t feel familiar, it’s a little bit shocking.”

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But then you bend the genre and add a love story into the mix. Eisenberg talks about what Mike’s motivations really are throughout American Ultra.

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“At the beginning of the movie [my character] has the ring and is planning to propose to [Phoebe] that day, and then everything blows up in his life. He keeps the ring in his pocket throughout the movie and he keeps looking for little moments, but then people try to kill them, so he keeps being interrupted. But it’s really sweet. And he has no tact, so the times he chooses to propose throughout the movie are the worst possible time, so he’s lucky that they get interrupted. But it’s this running, sweet joke.”

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The idea of someone you’d least expect to be a super spy actually becoming that super spy isn’t new — see the old television show Chuck — but it’s a good heightened avenue to explore the universal idea that we all must go through some kind of crucible between carefree childhood, which lasts a lot longer for some people than others, and the responsibilities of adulthood.

Watch the trailer below and check out American Ultra when it hits theaters this weekend.

[Image courtesy Lionsgate Pictures via Entertainment Weekly]

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