Cult classic. This term is generally reserved for works that have attained a massive fan following upon their release. Others find their following on home video. Nima Nourizadeh’s American Ultra did not set out to attain this status. As a matter of fact, its opening weekend box office take would suggest otherwise.
However, something interesting happened on the way through the movie.
Ultra is the story of a stoner, Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) living a life together in bliss; a bliss that is about to be shattered. Ironically, Max Landis’ story works specifically because of the cast. Eisenberg’s trademark awkward impishness, Stewart’s toughness, Topher Grace’s childishness and John Leguizamo’s smoothness all bring rather flat characters to life. Walton Goggins and Bill Pullman round out the supporting cast admirably. The story has some guffaws, but overall its humor is not lost and it is fun.
Pacing seemed a bit off as evidenced by the fact that there were two editors at the helm. Filmed on location in Louisiana, most of the movie featured night scenes and Michael Bonvillain was up to the task. His cinematography makes solid choices of the lighting, giving a grayish, overcast feeling to the movie. The 1.85:1 aspect ratio works, although with as much action and stunt work as was on display, a wider image may have helped.
After a dead last entry in its opening weekend box office, Landis, son of famous director John Landis, took to the internet questioning whether movie audiences were looking for something original since it opened among a bevvy of sequels and other adaptations which all fared better than this film did.
There is some truth to his commentary. Most of the social media has it that this movie is about a stoner and his girlfriend. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Ultra is genuinely deserved of a place in cult status, for all the wrong reasons – not because of Landis’ story or his rant, but because it was mis-marketed and is a genuinely fun, original movie.