Tuesday, 12 April 2016

American Ultra (2015)

Ah the film written by the wild and somewhat eccentric Max Landis, son of 80's director supreme, John Landis. I say this because this movie became somewhat infamous down to the fact that Max Landis had a bit of a tantrum over the fact it kinda bombed. There were Tweets and rants and moans and interviews etc...but really, what it all came down to was the simple fact that this movie was beaten at the box office by garbage such as 'Agent 47'. Is that fair? no, not at all because this movie is indeed better than said videogame shite, unfortunately Landis Jr. could not control himself too well and let rip out of sheer frustration, which is understandable I guess. But lets be brutally honest here for one moment, this is a violent action flick about people brainwashed into super agents, and it stars Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart and Topher Grace?? and people are wondering why it failed?

So despite Max Landis' claims about originality, here is the plot. Mike (Eisenberg) is a bit of a stoner loser, he works at a shitty convenience store, has greasy long hair, he's very skinny, and is somehow holding down a relationship with a surprisingly cute girl in Phoebe (Stewart). Meanwhile, within the CIA, agent Lasseter (Connie Britton) is informed that the special brainwashed agents from her failed Ultra project, are to be eliminated to make way for another better project headed by Yates (Topher Grace). Unhappy about this Lasseter finds Mike, who is one of these brainwashed agents, and activates him using special trigger words. What follows is a blazing trail of blood and bullets as Mike and Phoebe must avoid getting killed by Yates stream of other, so called, better brainwashed agents. As time passes Mike obviously gets better at killing, but is it enough for him to survive and save his girlfriend? Can Lasseter do anything to help? and is Yates on the level?

So the first question that springs to mind with this movie is, why exactly does the CIA want to kill off all these agents from this old project? OK they are part of a failed operation sure, but surely they could be of use in the field, they have been trained, they aren't completely useless as they find out with Mike. Apparently Mike is not allowed to leave the State in which he resides, not sure why but there you go, this is one reason given as to why he needs to be eliminated, eh? Lasseter was also originally informed by CIA bigwig Krueger (Bill Pullman) that her agents would be taken out as they are no longer required, it is explained that this was done merely out of respect and courtesy to her, but why?? Why would you call Lasseter to tell her this? surely you could guess she might not be happy with the decision considering these agents were her project. It just seemed completely bizarre that a top secret organisation like the CIA, which are apparently happy to eliminate their own agents, would tell another agent head what they are gonna do out of courtesy. This entire plot device also begs the question, why are the CIA acting like mobsters?! Since when did the all American CIA execute their own agents like some kind of evil supervillain organisation, seriously are they the CIA or Cobra? Especially at the end when Krueger dresses down both Yates and Lasseter, both of whom are restrained at the wrists, on their knees, in the middle of a field, in the pouring rain! What the hell! is this the mafia or something?? sheesh!

Other aspects of this movie are also just as weird frankly, like the agents that work for Yates (apparently called 'tough guy' agents...seriously). Now these guys don't really come across as actual human beings, no they are more like soulless Terminators or Uni Sols even. Seriously at one point Yates goes to a big truck where all his agents are just sitting in there, in two perfect rows, in the pitch black, in the back of this lorry, like flippin' robots. Are they supposed to be robotic assassins or something? because they sure as hell act like it. They don't seem to get treated after sustaining injury, and they follow orders blindly without remorse or emotion. One scene where two baddie agents (one of them being Walton Goggins) attack a police station is a complete Terminator/Uni Sol rip-off in my opinion. Both agent are dressed in all black, they both carry heavy weaponry and simply mow down every cop in cold blood, no emotion, and the female agent is clearly doing her best robotic Arnie impression (Goggins character laughs maniacally, hence his name is Laugher).

The main problem with this film are the two main leads played by Eisenberg and Stewart. Firstly Eisenberg is quite simply not the kickass action man type, he doesn't look it, nor does he portray it well, its just not believable even for this plot. Where as Stewart just isn't a particularly good actress and is sort of unpopular in the movie world, but she also seems miscast here. Neither really click together and don't come across as a believable couple, I just can't see why she would love Mike when he's such a loser. To top that, the twist with her character makes it even more unbelievable because she gives up her entire career for this guy, I mean this could be a workable plot but you would need actors that gel way better.

The fact that we know what happens in the end also hampers this movie badly. The whole tale is basically a flashback told from a point at the end of the movie, so we know that Mike survives everything, hence there is no real tension or engagement. Secondly the tone of this film varies hugely, at one point its a dumb black comedy type affair, then its a somewhat semi serious, dirty government type affair, then its trying to be a Bourne-esque kickassery type affair, then it hints at being a rom-com with cutesy dialog, and at times it can be a bit heartfelt. The film is all over the bloody place, you never know how to feel, is this serious or not?! its like a blend of 'Kick-Ass' and (of course) 'The Bourne Identity'. The other problem is there is actually too much needless violence and blood, nothing wrong with a bit of violence and blood, but here it just feels excessive and unnecessary, it doesn't actually add anything to the action. Segway into the action...it sucks! It literately looks like a fan-made version of 'The Bourne Identity' that's been slapped together rather amateurishly, which would be very impressive if it were made by a fanboy with little money. But seriously, for a movie that's suppose to be a hot action flick, there is very little memorable action in here, its all very run of the mill stuff, and it looks cheap.

So yes Mr Landis Jr. the film is original...in the fact that its not an actual sequel or prequel or reboot of anything that has come before, but the plot isn't exactly anything new. Unfortunately the film is terribly miscast on almost all levels, and that includes a racially stereotypical role for Leguizamo as a drug dealer, and the laughably bad Pullman who sneers comically as he barks his orders at his subordinates. When the film tries to be funny, it isn't, or its not funny enough. When it tries to be serious and badass, its not really either, its just very average with bad editing. Its all quite predictable, you know the main protagonist survives from the get go, Topher Grace is just his usual snivelling annoying self, and I'm pretty sure most people won't have a clue what the films title is suppose to mean at first glance. Final summary, blend Jason Bourne, 'Kick-Ass', 'Super' and a hint of 'True Lies' and voila! its just a shame it isn't as good as that sounds.