American Ultra Blu-ray Review
CHRONICLE helped launch the careers of two young men, Max Landis and Josh Trank. Trank threw away his chance at a future in Hollywood after his alleged escapades, on the set of the FANTASTIC FOUR reboot, were made public. Trank’s crying over critic and audience opinions about his drunken Marvel vision have forever buried him. Landis hasn’t so epically thrown away his one shot, but he certainly isn’t putting it to good use.
VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN, the monstrosity that it was, is still fresh in my mind. It’s a critical and financial failure, despite some talent. AMERICAN ULTRA may have been a premonition that studios should have heeded. Landis penned all three movies that I’ve mentioned so far and from this future vantage point, CHRONICLE still remains the best. AMERICAN ULTRA sits in between the two extremes of Landis’ abilities. AMERICAN ULTRA, possibly like the legacy that Landis leaves behind, is unrealized potential.
Mike (Eisenberg) is a stoner with simple pleasures in life. He loves weed, drawing, and his girlfriend, Phoebe (Stewart). He thinks his biggest problem is figuring out how to propose to Phoebe, but his real biggest problem is just around the corner. Mike is actually a trained assassin, but doesn’t know it. A certain combination of words will switch him from stoned and spaced out to relentless killing machine. His murderous tendencies are flipped on because his creator doesn’t want the government to eliminate him because the higher ups have deemed him no longer useful.
I envisioned AMERICAN ULTRA being a funny movie, but it wasn’t. I also envisioned it being full of ludicrous action, but it kind of succeeded in that aspect. Mike uses an array of MacGuyver ways to kill his opponents, using frying pans, spoons, and even a sequence featuring him using common household items in a retail outlet to dispose of unnamed opponents. The action scenes are entertaining, but few and far between. Too much time is spent setting up plot, when we’ve already bought into the notion that the government has turned a common stoner into a super soldier.
AMERICAN ULTRA also spends quite a bit of time building up the relationship between Mike and Phoebe, throwing in an unwanted twist for good measure. The backstory provided in AMERICAN ULTRA hints at the idea that maybe this was originally conceived as a TV show. It’s certainly a blend of themes that tragically don’t create a consistent tone. There’s drama, bad jokes, espionage, action, and plenty of other inspired or dreary moments that don’t quite fit together as a whole.
AMERICAN ULTRA isn’t a complete disaster. Stewart and Eisenberg demonstrate basic chemistry and handle the swinging tonal changes well. It may be like most stoner comedies, where the viewer needs munchies, joints, and a couple of good friends. But just like previous stoner comedies, it probably isn’t good watching it sober because you’re less susceptible to its half-baked jokes and ideas.
Video: (1080p Widescreen 1:85:1) Explosions, black light basements, and gore come through clearly on this blu-ray presentation.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1) The dialogue and gunfire find themselves on are way too extreme in audio levels. This blu-ray may need to be remixed.
Audio Commentary with Director Nima Nourizadeh: I’m not a fan of solo commentaries and this further solidifies my position on that sentiment.
Activating AMERICAN ULTRA (40:22): A lengthy behind-the-scenes feature that look at various production aspects. We also get some interesting interviews with the cast and crew.
Assassinating on a Budget (3:25): A feature that’s more or less a montage of all the small items used as weapons, freeze framing to highlight their cost. Just a silly feature that is more of a refresher on all the household tools of destruction
Gag Reel (2:42): A gag reel that’s lacking in gags.