By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
If Shaggy Rogers of Scooby-Doo fame ever meets the stoner Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) in American Ultra, he better start running away now! This amusing action-comedy-romance explores the life of a clueless young adult who has the skills of a trained assassin. He knows how to utilize it but when he’s spent a good part of his life wonderfully sedated, some of those special skills he knows are not as well honed as they could be. Neither is this movie.
The bigger plot that unfolds outside of Howell’s world is more interesting than the cat-and-mouse game where Howell’s involved. The onus is on Adrian Yates (Topher Grace), a high-ranking CIA operative trying to impress his superiors. He ordered the hit on Howell in order to erase the people involved in a CIA program to create sleeper agents.
This operation was once headed by Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton). She was unfortunately let go from it and she’s afraid for Howell. She sneaks around trying to prevent the hit from coming down and when she comes to blows with Yates, just who is going to be the winner requires wondering if the story about Howell is even important at all. Eisenberg certainly has the talent to make looking weirded out look good. Kristen Stewart plays Phoebe, the girlfriend, and to see her trying to shed her timey wimey role of Kristen from the Twilight films is welcomed. There’s a few moments she comes through as strong when her secret is out, but in the acts leading up to it, there’s really nothing to be impressed about. Grace is the talent to pay attention to in this film. His straight up performance of an agent with his own agenda made for an interesting product. There’s not enough depth that looks at his motivations but in what’s entertaining is how he shows his true colours.
But in what steals the show are the illustrations Howell crafted. They have a wonderful 70’s era illustrative style about them that speaks for the punk rock culture of the time. Apollo Ape can easily spin-off to its own product and where it’ll land has to be in comic book stores catering to the independents scene. As for whether or not it’ll happen will depend on demand. While this film falls flat in being exciting, at least there’s hope for the monkey. To lampoon the sci-fi pulps really must be featured and yes, stick around for the end credits animated sequence. That alone saves the film from being completely boring. A warning must be made though: the violence is over the top. It works in the comic book world, but not in real life.
3 Stars out of 5
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