The Manchurian Stoner: “American Ultra” Red Band Trailer

If you’re at all like me, then the second Jesse Eisenberg + Kristen Stewart pairing on the big screen might have evaded your feelers. I feel like I heard about American Ultra at some point, but may have dismissed it initially – even though I relatively enjoyed Adventureland (it wasn’t anything special, and I must admit that I have very little recollection of the plot specifics). Anyway, now that the Redband Trailer for American Ultra has been released, I decided to look into it in a little more detail. And now I’m pumped.

The trailer begins with John Leguizamo and Jesse Eisenberg meeting in an empty parking lot so that Eisenberg’s character (Mike Howell) can buy an engagement ring for his live-in girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart). Let’s start off my saying that John Leguizamo is one of those actors that instantly improves a movie by at least 10% just by appearing in it. He has been in some real duds, but he never adds to the awfulness nor detracts from the prowess; from Spawn and The Happening to Chef, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, he is always a welcome sight.

Our main character Mike Howell appears to be a slacker reminiscent of the characters in Clerks – he is content to kick it back and work the register at a dingy convenience store, get high with his girlfriend, and generally take it easy. When Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) approaches him at his register one night, she has this to say: “Cherry Progressive, listen. Mandelbrot set is in motion. Echo Choir has been breached.” We get short but rapids flashbacks in Howell’s mind, indicating some kind of training or indoctrination before he snaps back to reality and asks, “Is that a lyric from something?” Lasseter’s, “Fuck” is both angry, understated, and hilariously timed (although that could be the editing of the trailer and not the movie, that really doesn’t matter here).

What follows is a narrative with a Jason Bourne or Manchurian Candidate flavor. We see Topher Grace as an apparent head of a clandestine group that was responsible for the training of Howell and will now be responsible for neutralizing him. Howell is able to fight and kill his attackers almost by reflex – but instead of the incredulous but calm approach of a Jason Bourne, we get the freak-out of a drug-addled bad trip, “I just killed two people! They had guns and knives and were being like total dicks”.

The remainder of the trailer is fairly straightforward, and flirts with revealing a little too much of the story, but I doubt that plot is the main focus in a film like this. It seems apparent to me that this film will lean heavily on comedic chops and character moments, albeit with some cool action sequences thrown in the mix. Much like Pineapple Express injected (uhh, maybe the wrong verb) the stoner ethos into the crime thriller genre, American Ultra looks to do the same to the spy flick.  The film is scheduled for an August 21 release date in the US.

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