There is nothing like the high of an original movie. One such gem is American Ultra, a stoner comedy with an action twist now streaming on Max. Starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, this wacky adventure is a violent, heartwarming thrill ride that will leave you hankering for another hit.
American Ultra, streaming now on Max, features Jesse Eisenberg as a stoner Jason Bourne.
American Ultra follows Mike Howell, a small-town stoner in love with the girl of his dreams, Kristen Stewart’s Phoebe Larson. Travel-induced panic attacks keep Mike grounded in his tiny corner of the Earth, so he and Phoebe carry on their mundane lives working at the convenience store and getting high.
Then, one day, a mysterious woman repeats a series of code words to Mike, activating his prowess as a trained killer and military strategist. As government agents descend upon Mike, he discovers that he is a sleeper agent being targeted for elimination due to the threat he poses to society.
Now activated, Mike fights for survival and to save his girlfriend from the clutches of Yates, a smug and dangerous CIA hotshot played by Topher Grace. American Ultra blasts off with its unlikely hero to become a funny, action-packed romp held together by its sincere, gooey center.
Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, who previously worked together on the film Adventureland, tie the film together with their funny and believable chemistry. Far from the typical action hero stereotypes, they are in on the joke and play accordingly.
Topher Grace does what he does best – he plays a completely insufferable villain. His arrogant and annoying character gives American Ultra a villain you love to hate as he hunts down the film’s heroes. From stoner humor to bullets bouncing off frying pans to pummeled proposals, American Ultra delivers the goods from start to finish. And it needs a sequel.
Chronicle screenwriter Max Landis wondered what would happen if MKUltra, a 1950s CIA mind control experiment, happened to a normal stoner. To find the answer, he wrote American Ultra. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart boarded the project in late 2013, and by the following spring, the cast and crew were shooting outside New Orleans, Louisiana.
After encounters with rain, snakes, and alligators, American Ultra wrapped in June, just over a year before its release. Lionsgate distributed the film in the United States in August of 2015. The result was… disappointing.
Against a $28 million production budget, American Ultra grossed just over $30 million, failing to recoup print and advertising costs. Critics were lukewarm on the film, and by the end of its theatrical run, American Ultra was deemed a failure.
Topher Grace is an increidbly annoying villain in American Ultra, giving his character the perfect amount of smarm for viewers to want him to get punched in the face.
Max Landis expressed his confusion publicly. American Ultra went up against a slurry of sequels and remakes during its theatrical run, losing out to them all. To Landis, the failure to compete with established IP left him wondering whether or not original movies stood a chance anymore.
Landis took to Twitter to air his frustration. Believing American Ultra had all the right pieces, he could not fathom its loss at the box office. Landis’s comments gave voice to the many filmmakers facing the same existential crisis in a Hollywood era long dominated by franchises.
The whole machine is, of course, fueled by money. Whatever is believed to be the surest bet will win. By that metric, an American Ultra sequel seems unlikely. But it shouldn’t.
American Ultra works, and its premise is still full of potential. The film takes its characters from simple small-town life in the dark to international CIA missions full of action and intrigue. Continuing the story of those characters could certainly be interesting.
Against a $28 million production budget, American Ultra grossed just over $30 million, failing to recoup print and advertising costs.
What happens if Eisenberg is deactivated? Or Stewart’s mind wiped? Or does the pair have to deal with a newly activated sleeper agent?
There are many possibilities with those characters, but the premise can also be applied to an entirely new set of characters in a spin-off. A stoner is one example of an unlikely persona for a sleeper agent, but so is a housewife, an office drone, or a waiter – the possibilities in that arena are endless.
American Ultra is a blast, and it establishes a story world that is more than deserving of expansion. While that elaboration may be unlikely, it is fun to dream about. If you haven’t seen American Ultra, check it out this weekend on Max, with or without your favorite herbal assistance.