Watched American Ultra today. I meant to watch American Ultra when it first came out, but that never happened. That never happened because I intended to catch it on a cheap Tuesday (like the new Star Wars. Please let me make it another 24 hours without spoilers. It’s getting ridiculous. At an event last night I needed to plug one ear with my finger and start humming to not overhear the table next to me chatting loudly about it). I waited long enough that the flood of average reviews tempered my enthusiasm until I decided it wasn’t worth my money, that I’d be better to catch it outside its theatrical release. You know what? It would’ve been the perfect kind of film to catch on the big screen. Flashy and bombastic, crashes, bangs and fast paced music cuts that would’ve swelled on dolby surround. Large scale action suited perfectly to the cinematic environment. I missed that though and instead caught it on my computer monitor.
You know what? Fuck the reviews, it was exactly what I was looking for. Never overly poignant, but well paced, scripted and cast. However much I like Eisenberg in particular roles, Kristin Stewart has always been hit or miss for me. When she doesn’t click I find myself apathetic, but when she’s on I’m backing her 100%. Being a sucker for Adventureland, I tend to like the two of them together on screen. Stewart in this, was fucking excellent. Vulnerable and believable when necessary and kicking ass all over the show. I liked their relationship because she sold it. She was the heart of the film and in most every case gave as good as she got. I wanted to cheer for their weird little coupling and it’s pretty rare for me to give a shit about characters I know I’m only spending 90 minutes of my life with.
The film hit upon one of those tropes I find it hard not to jump on board whole heartedly: The hapless loser imprinted with insane latent abilities that throw them above the curve. I’m sure “stoner Jason Bourne” is how it was sold and as someone who enthusiastically devoured the first two seasons of Chuck (and the next two a lot less enthusiastically). It’s fun to watch action films where the environment actively comes into play. Having a character use the space around them feels rewarding, because it justifies that use of space in the first place. Like Bourne and Chuck, the action of American Ultra is hugely concerned with improvising based on location. It’s fun to enter a scene and start scanning the room to imagine which seemingly innocent objects are in actuality the harbingers of bloodshed. The film didn’t shy away from finding ideal locations for public massacres either. It’s rare for me to avoid any action scene held in a retail location and this film may have even given Hot Fuzz a run for its money.
Max Landis himself is a fellow I feel so conflicted about. He’s popped up on a bunch of podcasts I frequent and every time I get this weird reaction. He’s a smart guy and his brain works in wondrous ways. He has these really compelling ideas that lend themselves to the silver screen so well. He’s an educated nerd that has a true passion for his projects and brings out a ton of clever, unconventional ideas. On the Indoor Kids podcast he went over a really fascinating treatise on what he would’ve done with the Fantastic Four movie. I’d watch it without hesitation. At the same time, he seems almost entirely insufferable. A smarmy, entitled sounding know it all. Arrogant as fuck. He’s talented and he knows it. I guess that’s what comes from having the support of a famous father and the education/backing to do whatever you want with your life. The dude makes good movies and it has me stuck in this weird limbo between respect and disgust. Maybe that’s why Topher Grace’s character in American Ultra felt so spot on. Max was just writing himself into a film.
Anyway, the film might not be cerebral, but it’s sweet, funny and very, very violent. If those are things you want to see, watch it.