‘American Ultra’ falls flat

The sophomore release from “Project X” director Nima Nourizadeh, “American Ultra” hits all the sweet spots for “stoner action comedy” of the year.

Starring Jesse Eisenberg as young burn-out stoner Mike Howell and Kristen Stewart as his live-in girlfriend, Phoebe Larson, “American Ultra” takes “Archer”-esque styles of humor and violence to the big screen. Unbeknownst to both Mike and Phoebe, he was a part of an experimental government program known as the “Ultra” program, which attempted to create a squad of super agents out of young third-strike felons as an alternative to prison. Though the program by-in-large failed, Howell was a success, and he has been activated. Now, he and Phoebe are doing their best to survive as they are bombarded by an onslaught of government mercenaries tasked with eliminating Howell.

As a complete product, “American Ultra” seems like an attempt to match the ridiculous brilliance of “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” The action is over the top and almost Tarantino-like in terms of blood and spatter, and the banter between characters is quick and colorful. All of this sets the stage for a quality film, but none of those quality building-blocks matter when they are executed poorly.

As good as it was, “American Ultra” suffered at the hands of actors so wooden, they couldn’t have had a more emotionless performance if they’d taken root and sprouted leaves. As cliché as it is to say, Kristen Stewart delivers lines voicelessly, without enough emotion or expression to truly sell her role on screen. Unfortunately, the same could be said for Jesse Eisenberg, Topher Grace, and everyone else who was a part of “American Ultra.” The cast list fell flat across the board and was mostly uninteresting. This seemed to be the only palpable flaw, though the humor of the film is less jovial joking, and more drug related, awkward and uncomfortable situational comedy and “witty” banter. “American Ultra” may be a tough pill to swallow for some.

In short, “American Ultra” is a better-than-average action-comedy that is certainly good enough to kill an afternoon with friends, but likely won’t be reeling in many awards anytime soon.