American Ultra: The Spy Stoner Movie
My 76 year-old father loves action movies. The more whiz-bang and improbable they are, the better. It doesn’t even matter if they are serious spy/action movies or a sophisticated wink at the genre. This summer I took him to see Spy, which he totally enjoyed. I think he’d also like American Ultra (directed by Nima Nourizadeh of Project X).
American Ultra is a not-bad spy movie, once you get over the somewhat silly pretense and the kind of plot holes that you could fly a drone through, if only you didn’t lose plothole-evading courage in the middle.
Jesse Eisenberg plays a weed-smoking CIA sleeper Howell while fashion darling Kristen Stewart plays his perfect stoner girlfriend Phoebe. The couple is seemingly destined for domestic slacker happiness until a stop order is put on the sleeper agent’s existance.
At the promo screening I saw –at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas– much was made of the stoner elements of the film. The Alamo pre-show was spot on, with vintage anti-drug film clips and over-the-top Japanese noodle advertising. There was even a blunt-rolling contest with the prize being a stoner-themed goodie bag for the film! Despite this marketing, American Ultra is more a a spy movie starring a stoner than it is a film made for stoners.
The American Ultra cast is rounded off by: Connie Britton, Topher Grace, Tony Hale, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman and Walton Goggins. Various cast members fill the familiar tropes of most spy/action films: the government bad guy, the government employee who wants to do what’s right (but who also wants to keep his job), the drug dealer with eclectic decorating habits. You know the drill. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but Connie Britton’s hair does take a beating in the film!
While the movie is mostly entertaining fluff, it could do without the plot twist of using “mental patients” to do the dirty work in the plot. On its other merits, I’d give this mostly harmless-but-bloody popcorn film a solid “B”, but vilifying “mental patients” is a poor writing choice, a problem I’m putting squarely in the lap of writer Max Landis. (Max Landis is the son of director John Landis.)
Really Landis, you couldn’t do better than maligning a group who is already facing long odds to get decent care? It matters how we present the mentally ill in the movies.
Landis, don’t take such lazy steps in your plot construction. Or stop writing movies and just direct videos for Ariana Grande.
American Ultra is in theaters August 21.