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Movie Review: American Ultra

Posted September 3rd, 2015 at 12:07 AM by Nolafus
Updated September 3rd, 2015 at 12:14 AM by Nolafus

This movie is gory, doesn't make sense, over the top, and mindless action. So why did I enjoy it?

I must say, I was really surprised by American Ultra. I went in expecting mindless action with really cheap comedy, and that's actually exactly what I got. But don't worry, there's a lot more to it. The very things I went in to see took a backseat to a story with a surprising amount of heart and characters that weren't drones for endless jokes. Don't get me wrong, this movie is over the top, knows it's completely ridiculous, and boy do they run with it.

In case you don't know the plot, a stoner, Mike, who works in a run down grocery store finds out he's an FBI experiment and tries to save himself and his girlfriend, Phibi (Feebee? Fibi? Fibee? whatever), from impending death as the government throws everything they have at the guy. Yes, I'm being completely serious, and yes, I really did enjoy this movie.

The thing that caught me off guard the most was the characters. Well, two of them. Most of them are mediocre at best, but the two main characters had a lot of thought and effort put into them. Mike and Phibi have a convincing romance on screen and the chemistry between the two is really good. They struggle together as the story progresses, and from the first part of the movie, you feel the depth of their relationship. I don't think the bond is strengthened towards the end, as much as it is just tested, but because of the set-up in the beginning, the story didn't have to force the two together at the end. You really felt for these two, and I think they make a good couple.

Mike specifically surprised me. The movie got the point across that he's a stoner, but they don't shove it in your face. He's a person first, and walking drug storage second. He suffers from anxiety, and it's not a vehicle for some jokes. You can see the struggle on his face as he wants to go do whatever for his girlfriend, but he physically can't. He has dreams and aspirations, which is really great to see. By the time the action takes over, you really like this guy. There's a reason to care for him, and a real person to root for.

The reason Mike and Feebee work so well together is because the movie knows its limits. A comedy can't be 100% fun 100% of the time, and instead of trying to fill those spots in with a few more laughs, the movie takes a step back and lets you get to know the characters. This movie has to have good protagonists to make you care through the action scenes and laugh at the jokes. The writers knew this, and gave you plenty of time to get to know the heroes. They certainly aren't perfect, and their flaws aren't put on for show either. Well, they do get a few good laughs out of them, but they're there as the character. The flaws are a part of the characters, so when they do act a certain way for comedy, it feels genuine and not forced at all.

If it sounds like the story has some heart put into it, then you're completely right. The people behind American Ultra wanted to make a good action-comedy. I know that sounds pretty stupid, as no one sets out to make a bad movie, but they really did put a lot of effort into this. They build up the characters, don't take the story too seriously, know their limits, and in the end created an entertaining movie.

Before I start ripping into the not-so-great parts, I would like to take a moment and talk about the action scenes themselves. There's one main fight scene that takes place near the end and lasts a good couple of minutes. The reason I'm bringing this up is because it's done in one take. There's no cuts to different angles, it's just two guys slugging it out being followed by a guy holding a camera. It does get a bit shaky at times, but I just have to comment on the effort put into this.

Okay, getting back on track.

As much as I liked Mike and Fibee, the other characters really fell flat for me. I'm not exactly sure what a few of them were even there for, as they didn't even provide any jokes or move the plot along, while the others were one dimensional. They had their goals, their motives, and that's about it. The main villain especially fits under this. He's trying to climb the ladder in the FBI, and that's about as much as I know about him. There's no reason to care, and quite frankly, I found him really annoying. I get that that's exactly how he's supposed to be, but there's nothing more to him than this annoying bad guy who drops the F-bomb too much. I don't think the actor did a good job playing him, and the villain is probably the most disappointing aspect of this movie.

Speaking of disappointments, let's talk about the story. The film by nature can get away with a lot, but they really stretch it. The FBI storyline specifically was done very poorly. There's drones being launched, missile strikes, secret agents, and everything else you can think of being tossed around willy nilly, and it doesn't make any sense after a certain point. The main storyline with Mike and Pheebi carries the weight well, but I found this one to be boring and annoying at times. I can't say much about it, because of spoilers, but it's very confusing how they get away with everything. Towards the end, it gets tedious and you just don't care anymore about any of those characters. There were times I was wishing we could go back to Mike and Feebee, and that's not a good thing.

American Ultra is a ridiculous movie that ramps up the action with some down to Earth scenes to balance it out. The main storyline and characters work very well and have some really good moments, while everything else doesn't quite hold up. The heart and effort that was put into this movie really impressed me and made for a film that was a lot more entertaining than I was expecting.

Overall, I'll give this an 8/10.

The flaws can be overlooked, and I would recommend checking it out. I just had fun watching it.
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