Now showing in Hong Kong

Film review: Jesse Eisenberg finds his inner killer in slacker caper American Ultra

Great 1980s-style action choreography with Eisenberg playing stoned killer

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 September, 2015, 6:04am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 September, 2015, 6:04am

This ultra-violent caper plays like a cross between a 1990s slacker drama and a classic John Woo film. It’s cleverly planned and well-executed, and there’s even a bit of philosophy bundled into the madness and mayhem. Those looking for a wild night out will not leave the cinema disappointed.

The story starts with Mike (Jesse Eisenberg), a stoner who lives in a desolate American town, receiving a visit from CIA operative Lasseter (Connie Britton).  Soon enough, crazed assassins are trying to kill Mike and his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart). Confusingly for Mike, he makes short work of the killers by using martial arts and weapons skills he didn’t know he had. To save himself and his girl, Mike has to find out why he’s suddenly become a killing machine.

Those who miss the gunplay of late-1980s Hong Kong films will be able to get their fix here. While the action choreography is hardly original – it draws heavily on Woo et al, as well as the “designer violence” of ’80s Hollywood – it is incredibly well done. Director Nima Nourizadeh ratchets up the fight scenes with sharp edits and a lot of dancing around, and the outcomes are often thrillingly unpredictable. The way that Mike manages to make everything into a weapon is reminiscent of Jackie Chan’s choreographic style.

Most of the fun comes from watching Mike, the ultimate stoner, trying to make sense of his newfound fighting skills. Lines like, “If I’m going to die, I’m going to die stoned,” certainly raise a laugh. But although the film flaunts its B-movie characteristics, an underlying theme about the primal beast within us all is expressed in a surprisingly effective way.

American Ultra opens on September 17