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06 September 2015 @ 01:58 pm
Sort of Film Review: American Ultra  
This is less of a review and more of a warning, I guess. While I doubt anyone on my flist is running to see this movie or even really knows about it, it's being marketed as a stoner version of the Bourne Identity. But if you're going in thinking it's going to be a light comedy, it's really, really not. It's actually weirdly upsetting in parts to the point where I couldn't even laugh at the more comedy bits.

The premise is that Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) is a stoner-slacker type who works at a mini-mart and lives with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) in the middle of nowhere. But it turns out that he's a sleeper agent for the CIA who gets activated when the program he was part of gets shut down and all remaining agents are to be terminated.

I think the marketing people really tried their best to sell this movie as an action-comedy. And half the cast seemed to be on board that while the leads seemed to be making a more serious film about how much Mike has been completely messed over by the CIA. The whole smoking weed aspect feels less like a comedy device and more like how traumatized people genuinely do self-medicate with marijuana. Even before he gets activated and remembers his previous life as a CIA assassin, the film does a pretty good job of setting up all the things Mike struggles with. He has anxiety, can't leave town due to panic attacks, has random phobias, and is painfully aware that he's stuck but can't marshall his thoughts coherently to make any sort of change. That's all because of the brainwashing the CIA did to make sure Mike stays where he's supposed to but as he doesn't know that, he just thinks he's a complete mess and copes by smoking pot. There's a weirdly upsetting scene early on in the movie where he and Phoebe are getting high and Mike starts out doing that "on a high and philosophizing" thing that turns into a genuinely sad moment where he talks about how he's dragging Phoebe down with him.

I can't say the leads were bad because if this movie really was about the moral issues of turning someone into a weapon at the cost of the person's autonomy, then Eisenberg and Stewart were right on the ball. But they were weirdly jarring against the supporting actors who seemed much more on the path of making a straight comedy about watching the least likely person be a highly trained killer. In the end, I'm not entirely sure what would have made a better movie.