Landis strikes again! Max Landis has proven himself to be a pretty prolific writer after writing the screenplay to Chronicle, which was a massive hit with audiences and critics alike. It showed that Landis could take a semi-bizarre concept, give us some great characters to care about and then some witty dialogue that audiences could connect with. That’s really what made Chronicle work so well for some many people- the script. Here Landis does the exact same thing. His script is tight, darkly hilarious and essentially a throwback to the popular 1980’s “set in one night” movies. It’s goofy, weird, and even at times oddly touching. Landis has once again created the best thing about the film and you could even argue the only thing that really keeps it afloat.
Stoner chem. Helping keep the screenplay and its goofy concept from tanking is the acting from Eisenberg and Stewart. Reuniting for the first time since Adventureland, their chemistry is still safe and sound. It’s adorable and completely believable. There is a sequence early on in the film where the two are comparing their relationship to a car crash & a tree- it’s subtle, sweet and really gives us a lot of information about them as a couple. We can clearly see how they operate together with very little dialogue and a lot of body language. You almost want to watch a full romantic movie about their characters. Most of the other actors do their parts well, with the exception of Topher Grace who is dreadful in the film. He’s once again miscast as a threatening presence and once again, is unable to pull it off.
Just feels off. Oddly enough, the film lacks correct focus and feels slightly off; almost like a film that was directed by a guy who had never directed a film in his life. The most bizarre thing about this is that Nourizadeh isn’t a first time director at all, and his first film Project X felt completely cohesive and somehow managed to handle the chaos (in a very chaotic film) well. On the other hand, American Ultra feels very sloppy and like it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Sometimes the film seems like it wants to be a normal comedy that’s a smart send-up of the popular Bourne films, while other times it feels like it wants to go in a completely different direction- a straight-laced action film with a few interesting action set-pieces. The two ideas never mesh well together and in turn, the film doesn’t really feel right.
Using the violence the correct way. One of the best things about American Ultra is its approach towards violence. The film is extremely graphic and when death is shown on screen, so is blood. It unnerves the characters and therefore, it unnerves us as well. The epic showdown towards the last act of the film is a blast to watch, with gallons of blood being thrown at the camera and characters being covered in head to toe in it. It’s something that we don’t see very often in movies anymore and it makes it feel that much more fresh.