With the number of A-list potheads in young Hollywood these days you’d think that crafting a truly great stoner comedy would be easier than finding a medical marijuana dispensary on Melrose. But the truth is that for every classically funny stoner comedy like Dazed and Confused, Friday or Half Baked, there are dozens of skank weed misfires like How High, Your Highness and High School just waiting in the smoke-filled wings.
And while the films of stoner comedy legends like Cheech & Chong, Harold & Kumar and, more recently, Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg are always good in a pinch, finding a stoner comedy that both adheres to the rich, stony slacker spirit of the genre while injecting something funny, fresh, and original into the proceedings is even harder. So, when a stoner/secret agent/action/comedy like American Ultra wafts into your orbit like a killer contact high it is definitely something to be celebrated.
Goofy, charming, action-packed, and like the best pothead humor, imminently quotable, Ultra stars Jessie Eisenberg (The Social Network, Zombieland) and Kristen Stewart (Twilight, Still Alice) as Mike and Phoebe, a sweet pothead couple in love. Working dead-end jobs while living the slacker dream in a small town in Virginia, Mike and Phoebe’s nonstop buzz is rudely interrupted when a pair of trained assassins attempt to kill an unsuspecting Mike in the parking lot of the Cash and Carry where he works. I won’t spoil what happens next by going into too much detail, but the fact that sweet, mild-mannered Mike dispatches the heavily-armed duo with a spoon should give you a hint that the dude is much more than an aspiring comic book artist with a bong.
Directed by Project X helmer Nima Nourizadeh from a primo script by Max Landis (Chronicle, Victor Frankenstein) Ultra plays like a big, gushy love letter to secret-agent action epics like The Long Kiss Goodnight, La Femme Nikita and the Bourne films, but it’s Ultra’s lovable, low-fi underbelly that truly sets the film apart from the pack. And though it’s often easy to lose site of character development and nuance when things start blowing up in movies like this, Landis’ mad writing chops keep things humming at warp speed straight through the end credits.
And speaking of credits, make sure you stay seated for the animated insanity that finishes out the film. Like the best pothead humor, Ultra’s whip smart finale will leave you both satisfied and yet also strangely hungry for more. So, stick with it.
Also featuring first-rate supporting turns from TV favorites like That 70’s Show’s Topher Grace, Nashville’s Connie Britton and Veep’s Tony Hale as dueling CIA operatives, Ultra’s real secret weapon is John Leguizamo, who steals every scene he’s in as a low-rent, local drug czar named Rose. I’ve never been a huge Leguizamo fan, but his hopped-up, rapid-fire delivery here might just turn me into one. Even Rose’s crazy, rambling house is funny. And just wait till you get a gander at his day-glo tinted basement/sex dungeon. So awesome!
Now playing on select Aer Lingus, Emirates and Air Canada flights worldwide, American Ultra is also available via streaming at Google Play, Amazon Video and iTunes.