Blu-ray Review: American Ultra

By , Contributor
How did American Ultra slip so completely under the box office radar? Released in late summer of 2015, this could've become a true sleeper hit with the proper marketing push. But the trailer pushed it as a braindead stoner comedy and really undersold the film's underlying sly intelligence. Never fear, home video is here—now it's high time (no pun intended) to discover this hip, funny, and surprisingly romantic thriller.

Basically a combination of the Bourne concept and something out of Richard Linklater's early filmography (think Dazed and Confused), Ultra finds Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) completely stalled out in life. He works as a convenient store clerk and smokes a lot of weed. What adds unexpected depth to the proceedings (kudos to screenwriter Max Landis for the extra effort) is that Mike is startlingly philosophical about his status in life. He's hyper-conscious of his effect on girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), explaining his concerns via a complex (but beautifully expressed) metaphor in which he is a tree and Phoebe is a car. Seriously, this early scene should resonate deeply with anyone who feels they haven't progressed in life as far as they should've.

By the time Mike is revealed to have been programmed by the government (in a top secret experimental program) as a super-lethal spy, we're already firmly in his corner. That's the great strength of Ultra: Eisenberg, who can be supremely cold and unapproachable (aren't you just stoked for his upcoming turn as Lex Luthor??), is as warm and affable as he's ever been. He conveys Mike's bewilderment in light of his newly "activated" skills brilliantly. Stewart, always a highlight of anything she's in, matches his sympathetic portrayal beat-for-beat. As the complexities in their relationship are revealed, we care more and more about what happens to these two.

As it turns out, Mike's secret skill set is activated covertly (and against orders) by government agent Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton), only after she learns of plans to terminate Mike. Victoria's "Ultra" program, and it's so-called "Tough Guy" operatives like Mike, has been deemed a failure. CIA honcho Adrian Yates (Topher Grace), Victoria's longtime nemesis, is outraged by the attempts to alert Mike to his fate. Enough with the plot mechanics though—that should be enough to give you the picture of what this story entails. Despite some predictable plot elements, the strong performances, winning comedic elements, and welcome thoughtfulness make American Ultra worthwhile viewing. 
american ultra BD (301x380).jpg Lionsgate's Blu-ray presentation is beyond reproach. Michael Bonvillain's digital cinematography looks great in a sharp, 1080p, high-definition transfer. Just what viewers expect from a Blu-ray release of a recent film. More exciting is the DTS:X soundtrack (if you're equipped for it, of course), which defaults to a very active, kinetic DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix (screened here for review). The plentiful action elements make this one a solidly rocking, LFE-thumping mix.

Special features include director's commentary by Nima Nourizadeh, a 40-minute series of featurettes called "Activating American Ultra, and a gag reel. The Blu-ray Combo Pack includes a standard DVD and a Digital HD copy. If you passed on this in theaters based on a dopey, seemingly tired and stale trailer, consider giving American Ultra a shot.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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