Wednesday, 9 September 2015

American Ultra

Age Of Ultra

American Ultra
2015 USA
Directed by Nima Nourizadeh
UK cinema release print.

Warning: One slight plot point spoiler.

I’ve always had kind of a soft spot for Jesse Eisenberg as an actor. It has to be said, though, in recent years, I’ve had much less time for him as Jesse Eisenberg the human being, due to some footage I saw of him where he seemed to be saying less than respectful, hurtful things to a person trying to interview him. Now, I’m not sure if that’s a black and white issue or what the backstory to that particular interview was, so I am doing my best to approach with caution on his status as a regular person, especially since his behaviour doesn’t really add up with other stuff he ‘does’ in real life. Thankfully, it’s not my purpose to give a summary of the actor in question’s character... whether good or bad. Actually, I’m not really sure what my purpose is, to be honest, but I can certainly say that, as a personality on screen... he can be a lot of fun.

American Ultra is a film very much suited to his personality type. Or at least suited to play around and defy your expectations of what a stereotype like this can be pushed into being in a certain set of situations, that’s for sure. It’s not like any other movie around in the cinema at the moment... which coming from Hollywoodland is both a surprising and good thing. It’s not the homogenised, cliché ridden, formulaic blockbuster you will be getting on the majority of screens at your local multiplex and that’s always going to give it plus points over most of its contemporaries in terms of quirkiness and appeal. Luckily for us, the cast of actors including Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart and John Leguizamo (always nice to see him working) are all superb and help sell this, as does the director and the rest of the cast and crew... possibly somewhat against the odds when you realise how disjointed the script might have looked on the printed page (no, that’s only a guess, I’m speculating here people).

This is one of those movies which comes along once every few years and has that almost inherent quality of appealing to a small group of people (relatively, in film terms) and usually locks psychic antenna with audiences of a certain age... if I was still a teenager (alas, those weren’t the days) then I would absolutely be worshipping this movie and seeing it a gazillions times before buying it on home video and rewatching it, seated beneath a poster of the film of the same name etc. It seems like a really bad cliché, also, for me to use this analogy again because I’ve used it before for other films and I don’t want this expression to lose any of its weight but... I would say that American Ultra is the Heathers of the current teen generation and it will probably be absolutely loved by that section of the movie going public. It’s got that kind of cult appeal... not a term I am that comfortable with using due to its inherent contradictions within a box office context (there are no cult movies and if there were, we probably wouldn’t have heard of them)... that captures the zeitgeist like no other.

As a film the plot is simple... a stoner/loser type guy is really a killing machine created by the CIA and has a handler who has left the organisation because she loves him and who poses as/is his girlfriend. However, he doesn’t know any of this because he assumes his lack of memory is due to all the drugs he does. Meanwhile, an enthusiastic, success-seeking higher up in the CIA sees him as a risk and sends some people to eliminate him. Easier said than done though because he gets reactivated and goes on an accidental killing rampage every time somebody tries to kill him or his girlfriend as they attempt to flee the action.

This is a slightly simplified summary of the plot but it’s the basic nutshell of an outline and the film uses this premise to basically deliver a load of violence and drug addled humour wrapped up as a situation comedy where the situations are really f****ed up and the solutions to them usually end up as the path less travelled... most brutal. And it’s a blast... I had a great time with this movie and especially loved the vibrant colours and sense of movement the cast and crew were injecting into every shot. This one really connected with my inner teen and, though I found the musical scoring to be a bit less interesting than would normally work for me, it seems to be appropriate response to the swirl of chaos pictured on screen for the large majority of its running time. A running time which whips along at a very fast pace, there's no doubt about that.

Now there’s nothing truly surprising or astonishing about this movie, in all fairness.... it doesn’t push past any genaralised boundaries that other movies in a similar vein might have tried to do... but it’s blessed with being fairly well executed, so it doesn’t matter that it’s not taking you to places you’ve not seen before. It’s still fairly out there, though, in terms of its sensibilities and, being gifted with a constantly shifting menagerie of characters and events, you certainly won’t find yourself struggling to stay awake through this one. The editing is especially good because, bearing in mind the stuff which is going on all at once in this movie, I didn’t lose track of either the action or the plotting so... well... all I can say to that is that somebody is doing their job right.

Having said that, some of the violence seems to have been edited in such a way that it’s implying something out of sight of the camera rather than showing it in a few cases and I’m guessing that this movie was diplomatically pre-cut to avoid censorship issues before it got a cinema release. It looks like there’s a much harder cut of the movie waiting to be inflicted on an unsuspecting audience and, if I’m right, I’m guessing we’ll have a more extreme version of the movie to look forward to when this thing finally comes out on DVD and Blu Ray.

The one thing that did catch me off guard me about this movie is that it wasn’t based on a comic book... it really looks like it’s come out of the same “play with anything” kind of format that gave us movie adaptations such as American Splendour and Scott Pilgrim Versus The World... it certainly feels like it, in many ways. It’s to the filmmakers’ credit that it achieves this level of substance too, in a way, because it can’t be easy to go through a sustained shoot of something this fragmented without having a previously successful template to reference and give you motivation on a daily basis.

At the end of the day I’d have to say that American Ultra is an all around great movie and something that most teenagers and twenty somethings will find right up their street. As for me... yeah, maybe I’m in touch with my inner child just a little too much but I loved it too and would thoroughly recommend it to most people I know. Go and see it while it’s still playing on the big screen folks... it’s better than most of the other stuff showing out there at the moment.


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