"American Ultra" plays like a lazy stoner that had the potential for greatness

"American Ultra" needs to straighten out its priorities a bit

“American Ultra” reminds me of many stoners that I’ve met in my life. It has all the tools to succeed, but didn't really try to open the manual to know how to use them. Instead, it just sits on the side indecisively and blows all its potential up in smoke. 

It’s annoying because what we have here is a film that’s only a few steps away from being great. But what we’re left with is something that feels like lurching from one genre to another without even explaining why. 

That randomness is funny when it’s 2 a.m. and you don’t know where your clothes are, but as a sober movie-goer, it leaves you looking at your phone several times to see if it’s almost over. 

Using my electronic device in theaters isn’t the only unpopular thing this film is making me do. I never thought I’d see the day when I referred to Kristen Stewart as great, but she’s more than that here. 

Stewart has a reputation for being flat, but she’s anything but that in this movie. She manages to be funny and charming while heavily investing in a character that could’ve come off a lot worse. 

Her presence makes it more bearable to watch an absurd plot that threatens to get interesting once in awhile. You’d never think of Jesse Eisenberg as an action star without this film, but he pulls it off and anchors some clever fight scenes. 

What’s surprising is how he struggles with the dramatic moments, but it’s not his fault. The uneven script makes him portray a character with a slow-burn intensity that’s fascinating, yet he has to keep switching gears to become a neurotic pothead. 

That kind of bait-and-switch keeps stopping “American Ultra” in its tracks and makes it hard to get behind a lot of promising scenes. Part of the reason I kept noticing the lead performances was to distract myself from some really awful supporting roles. 

Walton Goggins and John Leguizamo seemed to be competing for the title of weirdest supporting actor of the year; both performances were just too random and heavy to be entertaining at all.  However, a couple of strange roles are a blessing compared to the typhoon of terrible that is Topher Grace in this film. 

Grace starts off well, playing the character as a little worm that struggles for respect that specializes in deadpan; this was the correct choice. What was not correct was the shouting at people and giving orders that comes off as desperate actions by the actor rather than the character. 

You get the feeling that Grace became increasingly frustrated by his inability to come off as menacing while filming and only tried to yell more as a result.  The actor snowballs into some truly painful moments that he’ll never put in a highlight reel. 

Most movies build their case for being a good piece at cinema as they roll on. “American Ultra” only knows how to do things in a mediocre way, making the audience feel like its getting the bread crumbs of the good package it could have been. 

At the risk of sounding like either a 50-year-old convenience store manager or a man with high standards, I’ll say "American Ultra" needs to straighten out its priorities a bit before I take it seriously.

Reach the reporter at jagger.czajka@asu.edu or follow @JaggerCzajka on Twitter.

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