Action American Ultra

'American Ultra' Blu-ray Review: Bourne meets bongs in ultra-violent action-comedy

November 24, 2015Ben MK

If you watch a lot of movies, you'll know that the US government has a long and colorful history of trying to create super soldiers — from experimenting on a scrawny WWII recruit in Captain America: The First Avenger, to reanimating deceased Vietnam vets in Universal Soldier. But what if they tried to turn a pot-smoking slacker into a one-man army?

That's exactly what happens to Jesse Eisenberg's character in American Ultra, in which he plays an anxiety-prone convenience store clerk named Mike Howell, a hapless loser whose three loves in life are smoking weed, working on his unpublished comic, and his live-in girlfriend, Phoebe Larson (Kristen Stewart). In fact, you could even say Mike loves Phoebe so much that he can't even remember what his life was like before he met her. If we're being honest, however, that may have less to do with Phoebe and more to do with the fact that Mike used to be a human guinea pig for Uncle Sam.

You see, before he moved to the dreary, West Virginian town of Liman, Mike was a test subject in the CIA's top-secret "Ultra" program, the government's misguided attempt at turning ordinary civilians into living weapons. Then the whole project was shuttered, and Mike's memory was wiped. But now a CIA agent named Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) has decided that Mike's more of a liability than an asset, and he's marked him for death — which leaves Mike's fate in the hands of his former handler, Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton), one of the few people who know about Mike and his latent combat abilities.

What follows could be thought of as one part Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and one part The Bourne Identity. But even that doesn't properly describe what Project X director Nima Nourizadeh and Chronicle screenwriter Max Landis have cooked up here. American Ultra contains its fair share of bloodshed and mayhem, but what's surprising is how much screen time this genre-warping film actually devotes to the drama of fleshing out Mike and Phoebe's relationship. And in the end, that makes American Ultra more than just your run-of-the-mill stoner's action-comedy.

Many of American Ultra's scenes have been color-graded towards the teal end of the spectrum, but otherwise flesh tones are accurate and colors (like the red of Mike's Hawaiian shirt) are vibrant and well-saturated. All in all, the quality of this Blu-ray transfer is immediately apparent, with strong contrast and black levels, as well as a razor-sharp image that allows viewers to observe every scrape and cut on the characters as the battles heat up. Turning to the audio, the disc comes equipped with a DTS X soundtrack, and the results are equally impressive. Dialogue is clear, as is the thumping electro-rock score, and both are always well-balanced, even against the more bombastic, action-oriented effects, such as automatic gunfire and explosions.

Elevation Pictures' one-disc Blu-ray release contains the following Blu-ray extras:

  • Audio Commentary With Director Nima Nourizadeh - The film's director talks about such things as the intention behind various scenes, the actors' performances, the story, the production and set design, the shooting locations, the stunt choreography and more.
  • Activating American Ultra (40:22) - A two-part making-of documentary that looks at everything from the movie's inception, its tone and the dynamic between the actors, to the way that its violence is handled, its visual aesthetic and the fight choreography.
  • Assassinating on a Budget (3:25) - A brief, tongue-in-cheek spot that tallies up the cost of the everyday items Mike uses to kill people with in the film.
  • Gag Reel (2:42) - Goofs and outtakes from the set.

American Ultra is available from Elevation Pictures as of November 24th, 2015. The Blu-ray features English DTS X, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS 2.0, and English DTS 2.0 Descriptive Audio tracks. Subtitles are presented in English, English SDH and Spanish. The total runtime is 1 Hr. 36 Mins.

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on August 21st, 2015.

You May Also Like