Overlooked Films of 2015 – American Ultra

Benjamin Himes

          By all accounts, I intentionally went in regarding American Ultra as one of those films late summer that studios put out when the blockbusters are still on their runs, and right before the ‘Oscar films’ come out. American Ultra had the misfortune of a commercial run that did not particularly match the tone in which the film conveyed.

          Upon first viewing of American Ultra, it resembles a cross between Pineapple Express and The Bourne Identity; the blend of stoner comedy and action spy genres was an interesting combination that, when taken into perspective regarding our mashup/remix culture, provides a unique view rounded up by a cast that service character archetypes that are familiar within our sphere of film narrative.

          A prime example of what sets this film apart from the rest of the onslaught of quirky, silly, action films that combine elements from other film genres can be traced to the way the film was written. As the main screenwriter, Max Landis has shown a knack for writing, particularly with the overnight success of Chronicle, which itself takes the “superhero” genre and adds the element of found-footage. The actors in American Ultra enhances the audience perception that they understand that this is a silly film, the acting does not have to be top notch yet not as over-the-top as the example shown by Walton Goggins (Laugher).

          Another example of the tightness that this film brings correlates to the pacing and the way action is shot throughout the film. The slower, dramatic scenes are at specific points between action scenes to set up the next scene, which will most likely be a break in the dialogue by a large explosion or hail of gunfire. The chemistry between Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart is believable, you actually feel as though Stewart genuinely cares for Eisenberg, she is not simply going along with the script in relation to a more famous set of films. The banter between Connie Britton, Topher Grace, and Tony Hale is spectacular; Tony Hale may perhaps be forever typecast for his role as Buster Bluth, but my golly is he the perfect person to play that role whenever it may surface.

          On the whole of the substance over style scale, American Ultra may delve into style, it may come off as a rip-off of genre films of the past. It may give off a vibe of a confused tone as to whether or not it may want to be an action movie or a comedy specifically. Yet, I believe that this is the charm of the film overall, it does not have to be one or the other, it’s vision as a genre-crossing film is sure to please those who enjoy immensely the different directions filmmakers are taking. That at the heart of what they are doing is to distance themselves from what can be declared as homogenization in film.


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