American Ultra (Blu-ray)

November 25, 2015 6 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Matt Malouf

Plot: What’s it about?

I admit to being fairly intrigued when I saw the preview for American Ultra. It did seem like a strange film, but one that could deliver the goods. The film also reunites Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart who stared together in the underrated Adventureland. I quite enjoyed that film, but sadly, American Ultra is a wasted opportunity. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where or how the film went so wrong, but the final product is painful to sit through. It’s one of those films that you just keep waiting to get better, but it never does. I also had a hard time caring about a single character in the film. The frustrating part is that it shows a lot of promise in its early moments.

Eisenberg stars as Mike Howell, he’s a stoner (surprise, surprise) who works at a gas station in a small town and plans on proposing to his girlfriend, Phoebe (Stewart). Howell has a few issues of his own. For one, he has panic attacks, and this prevents them from taking a vacation to Hawaii. This is where he planned on proposing. For a short while, I was interested in following these two characters to see where the film might take them. It also has a way of not letting us know exactly what it’s all about at first. This added to my interest, but it doesn’t take long until the wheels come off and the film essentially falls apart. I want to be careful not to reveal too much of the plot, but let’s just say there’s a secret Government project that requires Howell to be exterminated. Two CIA agents played by Topher Grace and Connie Britton show up to. Britton plays Agent Lasseter. She is trying to protect Howell while Agent Yates (Grace) plans on killing him since he’s behind a rival government program. If all this sounds a little strange, that’s because it is. Sadly, it’s just not very interesting, either.

Whatever the intention was behind the film, it just doesn’t work. The Government element has been done many times before; we’ve seen stories of rogue agents, or programs that failed. It tries to add comedic elements as well, but there’s nothing particularly amusing about any of this. It gets quite violent as well, and isn’t for the faint of heart. I was reminded a bit of some of the more experimental films that we saw a lot of from the 80’s and 90’s. Still, the film just didn’t sit well with me. Eisenberg is certainly a capable actor, but the role isn’t that much of a stretch for him. Stewart is hit-or-miss, but she isn’t given much to do. Even for curiosity sake, I can’t recommend this film. It has little redeeming qualities, and is just too bizarre to connect.

Video: How’s it look?

Presented in a 1.85:1 AVC HD transfer, American Ultra looks, by and large, very good. There were a few instances in which I kind of scratched my head a bit as a new to Blu-ray should (and usually does) look pristine. That’s not to say that this doesn’t have more than its fair share of moments, but there were a few oversaturated and undersaturated scenes that really weren’t consistent of a new release. Detail, as expected, is sharp as a razor and we can make out the little nuances that so adequately define the format. Flesh tones appear warm and natural, except when they’re deliberately influenced by the filmmakers. All in all it’s a nice-looking picture, but I felt it could have been a tad better.

Audio: How’s it sound?

This, I believe, is the second title in which a DTS X audio track has been featured (the first was Ex-Machina). I don’t own a receiver capable of decoding such a track, so thankfully the DTS HD Master Audio mix more than does the part. If you look at the cover, it’s pretty obvious that things will blow up. They do. A lot. Gunshots, explosions – everything it all sounds glorious. Even Jesse Eisenberg’s usual mumble and hard to understand dialogue sounds fine this time around.  Surrounds are active, LFE get plenty of chances to flex their muscle -it’s a damn good track.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Audio Commentary – Director Nima Nourizadeh puts forth a fairly engaging track filled with little tidbits about the film. We get some information from casting, the shoot and some of the post production work involved.
  • Activating American Ultra – Admittedly, I wasn’t expecting a 40 minute “documentary” (quotes used intentionally) but we do actually get a pretty detailed look at the making of the film. Running at nearly 40 minutes, nearly all aspects are featured here.
  • Assassinating on a Budget – A montage of cost-effective methods in which Mike uses to take out his enemies.
  • Gag Reel – Shenanigans on the set.

The Bottom Line

Strange and off-putting would be how I can best describe American Ultra. I just don’t know what to say here. The film rubbed me the wrong way and I found it hard to relate to on any level. Skip it.

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