Saturday, August 22, 2015

American Ultra [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  ChicagoTribune (3 1/2 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (K. Walsh) review
RogerEbert.com (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review  


American Ultra [2015] (directed by Nima Nourizadeh, screenplay Max Landis) can perhaps be described as Jason Bourne of The Bourne Identity [2002] meets the Pineapple Express [2008] meets the original Rambo of First Blood [1982]:

The film begins with Mike (played by Jesse Eisenberg) a mild mannered stoner introducing himself to us though an extended voice-over.  We see that he lives in essentially a shack at the edge of a small town in West Virginia with a similarly "stoner" but also clearly "more together" girlfriend named Phoebe (played by Kristen Stewart) to whom he is enormously grateful because she seems to have enormous patience in putting-up with him. 

Now how can they both be "stoners" and yet one be "clearly more together" than the other?  Well, it becomes pretty clear rather quickly that Mike is keeping himself "baked" on marijuana because of some serious phobia issues.  In contrast, Phoebe, while "partaking" as well, isn't doing so for the same reasons or nearly in the same quantities: She's smoking-up with Mike to continue to be with him and, yes, to help keep him at ease.  Oh dear, "an enabler" ... YES (!), perhaps, but she does seem to know that he has issues.  And again, Mike is enormously grateful for her kindness.  Odd, but possible ...

Things would continue indefinitely in this rather mess-ed up stasis if not for a petty bureaucratic fight taking place several hundred miles away -- at CIA headquarters in Langley, VA (!)  What the ...?

There, a young / rising mid-level CIA official named Adrian Yates (played by Topher Grace), who's directed a rather "successful" covert program that turns criminally insane inmates into special ops-assassins has decided to "terminate" a previous, less successful, rival program headed by another (since demoted) middle-aged mid-level CIA official named Victoria Lassater (played by Connie Britton) which simply sought to convert "volunteers" from among petty criminals in U.S. prisons into special ops-assassins -- "terminate" meaning KILLING the remaining "volunteers" from Lassater's previously less successful (largely failed) project.  Why would Yates bother?  Well, because he feels he "can" and because he's a bureaucratic a-ahole.

Mike, turns out to be one of those "volunteers" from Agent Lassater's previous, less successful program.  To "decommission him" at the end of the (failed) program, the she had his memories largely erased, leaving him a basket case with all kinds of phobias (the origins of he didn't understand) and unable to function in the world without some help (Phoebe).   Lassater is aghast, however, to find-out that her young rival at the Agency was now going to send his (previously criminally insane) "assets" to KILL her one surviving "asset" who she had been at least able to so "decommission," albeit with horrible side-effects, back to somewhat "normal" civilian life.

What to do?  Lassater decides to "go rogue" to try to save Mike.  She shows-up at the "Cash and Carry" dollar store where Mike works, telling him a very specific obviously coded message.  That coded message activates repressed memories inside Mike, allowing him to "defend himself" against the coming onslaught previously criminally insane now highly trained CIA super-assasins sent to "off" him.

Much of course ensues, and for a good part of the movie, Mike has no idea why ...

The film becomes a fairly interesting paranoid thriller.  My biggest problem with it is the film's often senseless brutality.  The same story could have been told without resorting to the level violence portrayed in the film.  As such, the R-rating is certainly deserved.  Still the story itself is rather compelling.  As such, the 20-something crowd could leave the film with a fair amount to talk about.

Still I thought the graphic violence was way, way too much than necessary to tell the story.


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