Wednesday, 9 September 2015
American Ultra (2½ Stars)
A funny thing happened to me on the way to the cinema.....
No, I shouldn't make a joke of it, it was a very pleasant experience, even if it was unusual. While walking to Cineworld to see "American Ultra" with my fellow members of the Birmingham Film Group I was stopped by a pretty young woman offering me a jelly bean. I immediately accepted. We got into a conversation with one another. It seems like I was the first person to accept a sweet from her. Everyone else thought she had an ulterior motive. Why? What's bad about handing out sweets in the street? Can't we show a little love in the world? The young woman who introduced herself as Jaz made me so happy that I photographed her for all the world to see.
When I met my friends I told them about my brief encounter, and their reaction stunned me. They made remarks like, "Mike, you can't accept sweets from strangers, they might be poisoned". That's a sad commentary on the world we live in. Is the world so evil that whenever we see a random act of kindness it's assumed to be something bad? I'm naive, I know I'm naive, but I don't want to be any other way.
It's not the first time in my life I've experienced a stranger handing out sweets. About 10 years ago there was an elderly Pakistani who used to stand outside his house on Coventry Road offering sweets to passers-by. When the weather was good he stood outside for hours. I asked him why he did it. He said that his brother used to hand out sweets to strangers. After his brother's death he decided to carry on the tradition. He added that by giving away sweets he could make people happy by doing something that cost him only a few pennies.
Now to the film itself. I was hesitant to go and see it after my fellow blogger, Emma Roberts, gave it such a bad review. I didn't find it quite as bad as she did, but it's not a film I can recommend.
Someone should ban Kristen Stewart from acting. She manages to sabotage whatever she appears in. If she were at least drop-dead gorgeous I could tolerate her, but she's average looking and an abysmal actress. She's incapable of showing the least emotion on screen. She's a female version of Keanu Reeves. I feel guilty for posting the picture above. It makes the film look so cool, and it makes Kristen look like a cool hippy chick. That's false advertising. The film isn't cool, and Kristen Stewart definitely isn't cool.
The film's plot is typical for high-tech spy thrillers. When Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) was 18 he enlisted into a secret CIA program to create super-soldiers. The project was abandoned, so his memory was wiped and he was sent to live in Liman, West Virginia. He works in a convenience store and he spends his spare time getting stoned with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart). When he attempts to leave the town a CIA executive, Adrian Yates (Topher Grace), decides to eliminate him by sending in a team of highly trained killers. Mike's former mentor at the CIA, Victoria Lasseter (Connie Briton), arrives first and re-activates his fighting abilities by saying a pre-programmed sentence to him. This doesn't bring back his memories, he still doesn't know who he is, but at least he now has the ability to defend himself.
The problem with the film is that it's in a grey zone between a serious action thriller and a comedy. If the comedy had been either eliminated or ramped up to the extreme it would have worked better. The main actors (Jesse, Kristen and Connie) play their roles with deadly seriousness. Topher Grace and most of the supporting actors use comical over-acting. There's no consistency. Then there's the love story. Why does Mike love Phoebe? What does he see in her? She really should have been played by a better actress.
I've recently been criticised for always writing good things about the worst of films. I don't deny this. Even when I see a film that I don't like I try to ask myself what's good about it. There must be something that makes any film worth seeing. In the case of "American Ultra" I don't have to look far. Even when she dresses plainly Connie Britton is a glamorous woman who can turn heads. Her acting talent is phenomenal, she's the centre of every scene she appears in. I'm also impressed by Jesse Eisenberg. I never thought of him as an action hero, but this film proves that he can adapt to roles untypical for him.
Of course, the best thing about the film was the sweet I was given on the way to the cinema. Thank you, Jaz.