The genres of comedy and action are never a rare thing to see on the silver screen, but it's not too often that we see a movie that embodies both types of film. Action-comedies have had an impact on the movie world with the various films making an impression with moviegoers. However, due to the contrast between the genres it can be tricky to make an effective action-comedy; but that does not seem to stop filmmakers from making new additions to this sub-genre. Such is the case with American Ultra. Directed by Nima Nourizadeh, American Ultra takes the idea of crazy action and mixes it with the concept of a stoner comedy. In the case of this adventurer, seeing another stoner comedy hitting theaters was not too thrilling; but I suppose one could always be surprised. So is American Ultra a film that stands as both an action and a comedy, or does this film's chances go up in smoke?
The story of American Ultra follows stoner Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg). Living in a small town with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), things are quite content for the couple. However, everything changes when CIA Agent Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) comes to warn Mike that Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) is sending operatives to kill the young man. Mike soon discovers that he is more than able to handle the opposing forces. It turns out that Mike is a sleeper agent trained to deal with any situation. As things drastically get crazier, Mike and Phoebe must survive the night before the CIA catches up with them and terminates the couple.
The plot of American Ultra was both straightforward and surprising. The story stays true to its concepts and that turned out to be both an advantage and disadvantage for the film. Themes such as the main character being a stoner was approached, surprisingly, in a subtle way as opposed to being over-the-top. While this was indeed refreshing, the direction did hurt the presentation to an extent - especially when it came to the film's comedic side. The other issue I had was the plot's pacing. The pacing was too quick for its own good. It was not impossible to follow the story, but it did make it hard for certain elements to find their strides. Though, even with the issues, there was much to like about American Ultra's plot. The twists and turns to this wild story had me both intrigued and entertained. So, while it may not have been a flawless story, American Ultra still had a plot that was fitting for both the action and comedy genres respectively.
Like the plot, the cast was also filled with surprises. Particularly when it came to the two leads. Both Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart had fantastic performances as Mike and Phoebe. Rather than coming off as just a stoned protagonist, Mike is likable as his personality and his development seems genuine. Kristen Stewart, much to my relief, played a character that is both interesting and - just like Mike - likable. Topher Grace as Adrian Yates is ridiculous, but in a good way. Even though he can get out of hand, Topher's over-the-top performances made for a fairly comedic antagonist. The film also had a solid supporting cast featuring the likes of Connie Britton, Tony Hale, Walton Goggins and John Leguizamo. Though they may not have been the most memorable characters, each of the supporting cast members did a solid job in their own roles. Add the talents of Bill Pullman and you have a cast that has a lot to offer in American Ultra.
When dealing with an action-comedy, it can be hard to find the right blend for both elements to work in the film's favor. Yet in the case of American Ultra, it does have a sense of action as much as it has a sense of humor. The comedy to this film is quite subtle, actually. With the film's concept and all, I expected an outrageous comedy of errors that would be riddled with drug-related jokes, but that's simply not the case. Instead what I saw was a movie that intends to be funny while knowing how to effectively use its humor. This approach was quite refreshing as it creates an atmosphere that I could be both compelled and entertained by. The only issue with the comedy was that it could be too subtle. By this, I mean that the humor, though it could be funny, needed a sense of timing to be truly effective. When it came to the action element, however, it feels right for the overall film. Perhaps it could have been more creative but the action of American Ultra is effective - especially in the film's climax. The film's technical elements - like music and cinematography - were decent, but none of those elements left a major impression on me. In the end, I felt that the movie's direction does a good job blending both action and comedy, even if both factors could have had a stronger approach.
It may not be a game changer, but American Ultra is definitely a surprise. The film's subtle take on storytelling and character development make for a dynamic and entertaining time at the movies. I may not be a fan of the traditional stoner comedies but I can still take off my hat to a movie that definitely deserves credit, and I am very pleased to give that respect to American Ultra.
American Ultra is out in theaters this Friday, August 21st!