Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Nima Nourizadeh|
|Written by||Max Landis|
|Music by||Marcelo Zarvos|
|Distributed by||Lionsgate Films|
|Box office||$30.3 million|
American Ultra is a 2015 American action comedy film directed by Nima Nourizadeh and written by Max Landis. The film stars Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman, and Tony Hale. It was released on August 21, 2015, by Lionsgate.
Mike Howell is a stoner who lives in the sleepy town of Liman, West Virginia, where he works as a convenience store clerk. He is planning to propose to his longtime girlfriend, Phoebe Larson, on a trip to Hawaii. However, due to a fear of travel, he suffers intense panic attacks and is unable to board the plane. It is revealed he has had similar issues trying to leave town in the past and does not understand why Phoebe is so nice about it.
In Langley, Virginia, CIA Agent Victoria Lasseter receives a coded warning that Mike, the sole survivor of her “Wiseman” Ultra program, is to be eliminated by her rival, Adrian Yates, and his similar “Toughguy” agents. Feeling a duty to protect Mike, Lasseter travels to Liman and "activates" Mike through a series of code words. Mike fails to understand their significance, and she leaves in resigned frustration.
Mike finds two Toughguys planting a bomb in his car and is attacked, but his training activates and he quickly kills them. Horrified, he calls Phoebe, who reaches him just as Sheriff Watts arrives. Yates sends two Toughguy operatives, Laugher and Crane, to kill Mike and Phoebe at the sheriff station, but they evade Laugher and kill Crane before escaping to the home of Mike's drug dealing friend Rose. Mike becomes unnerved by an array of facts he suddenly knows regarding military strategy. He also realises he has very little memory prior to living in the town with Phoebe, wondering aloud why he never questioned this before.
Yates places the city under quarantine, and puts Lasseter and Mike's pictures on the local news. Lasseter contacts her former assistant, Petey Douglas, to air drop her a weapon. Yates finds out and threatens Petey with charges of treason, causing Petey to deny her further help. Yates then attacks Rose's house with two Toughguys using a lethal gas. The agents kill Rose and his two guards, Big Harold and Wuinzin, before Mike and Phoebe kill the attackers and she rescues Mike from the gas, which she is familiar with. When pressed for answers on her knowledge of the gas, Phoebe reluctantly reveals she was a CIA agent assigned to be Mike's handler, leaving him heartbroken.
Laugher ambushes the duo and captures Phoebe. Mike is rescued by Lasseter and insists on returning to his house. She tells him that he volunteered for Wiseman due to his criminal record and subsequently had his memories erased. He also learns that Phoebe was to get him settled in Liman and then leave, but chose to stay because she legitimately fell in love. Lasseter also explains that his phobias, including his fear of leaving town, were implanted to keep him safe.
Yates’ army liaison, Otis, joins a Toughguy to attack Mike’s house. Mike and Lasseter kill them, prompting Yates to order a drone strike on the entire block. Petey launches the drone but eventually refuses to fire its missile, then secretly reports the situation to Yates' superior, Raymond Krueger.
Mike contacts Yates and arranges to exchange himself for Phoebe at a local grocery store. He attacks the store, killing or incapacitating multiple Toughguys before fighting and defeating Laugher, whom he spares when Mike learns he is a mentally unbalanced man forcibly conscripted by Yates. Phoebe escapes from Yates when Lasseter attacks him, but Krueger arrives and stops her.
Phoebe and Mike leave the store under gunpoint of multiple law enforcement officers, before whom he proposes to her.
In a forested area, Krueger has Yates and Lasseter bound and kneeling. Yates argues that what he was doing would have been okay with Krueger, despite the deaths of seven innocent sheriffs, if the results had been successful, and Krueger agrees. Yates, missing the “successful” codicil, smugly smiles and stands, but is executed by Krueger. Krueger admits he informed Lasseter of Yates’ plan, and she points out that, by taking out 17 Toughguys, Mike is proof of the success of her Wiseman program.
Six months later, handled by Lasseter and Petey, Mike and Phoebe are in Manila, confident and happy together as they carry out a CIA assignment.
- Jesse Eisenberg as Mike Howell
- Kristen Stewart as Phoebe Larson
- Topher Grace as Adrian Yates
- Connie Britton as Victoria Lasseter
- Walton Goggins as Laugher
- John Leguizamo as Rose
- Bill Pullman as Raymond Krueger
- Tony Hale as Petey Douglas
- Lavell Crawford as Big Harold
- Stuart Greer as Sheriff Watts
- Monique Ganderton as Crane
In November 2013, Apsara Distribution announced that they had acquired the rights to distribute the film outside the United States. In March 2014, Lionsgate announced their acquisition of the North American rights to the film. In April 2015, Lionsgate set an August 21 release date for the film.
American Ultra grossed $14,439,985 in North America and $15,855,091 in other territories for a worldwide total of $30,295,076, against a budget of $28 million. In its opening weekend, the film grossed $5.5 million, finishing sixth at the box office and third among the week's new releases, behind Sinister 2 ($10.5 million) and Hitman: Agent 47 ($8.3 million). Landis criticized the film's poor box office performance on his Twitter, stating,
"So here's an interesting question: American Ultra finished dead last at the box office, behind even Mission Impossible and Man From Uncle. American Ultra was also beaten by the critically reviled Hitman Agent 47 and Sinister, despite being a better reviewed film than either, which leads me to a bit of a conundrum: Why? American Ultra had good ads, big stars, a fun idea, and honestly, it's a good movie. Certainly better, in the internet's opinion, than other things released the same day. If you saw it, you probably didn't hate it. so I'm left with an odd thing here, which is that American Ultra lost to a sequel, a sequel reboot, a biopic, a sequel and a reboot. It seems the reviews didn't even matter, the MOVIE didn't matter. The argument that can/will be made is: big level original ideas don't $ [sic]. Am I wrong? Is trying to make original movies in a big way just not a valid career path anymore for anyone but Tarantino and Nolan? That's the question: Am I wrong? Are original ideas over? I wanted to pose this to the public, because I feel, put lightly, confused."
American Ultra received mixed reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 42%, based on 170 reviews, with an average rating of 5.37/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "American Ultra has some interesting ideas, but like its stoned protagonist, it's too easily distracted to live up to its true potential." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 50 out of 100, based on 31 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B–" on an A+ to F scale.
Mark Kermode of The Guardian gave the film two out of five stars, stating "Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart brave an anarchic mish-mash with lots of violence but few laughs." David Dishman of the McAlester News-Capital writes "American Ultra promoted itself under the slogan, "There is nothing more dangerous than a stoned cold killer," and while they may be right, there's also nothing spectacular about that stoned cold killer's movie."
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone awarded the film two of four stars: "Soon the movie's twisty charm gives way to gory splatter. Eisenberg and Stewart stay appealing to the last. The movie, not so much." Neil Genzlinger from The New York Times gave the film a mixed review, ending with "A lot of it seems familiar, and Mr. Eisenberg and Ms. Stewart aren’t stretched much. But Mike finds amusing ways to defend himself using ordinary household items, Walton Goggins and John Leguizamo enliven things in goofy small roles, the plot has a nice twist or two, and your theater is probably air-conditioned."
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