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Nima Nourizadeh
Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton
Writing Credits:
Max Landis

The CIA's Best Sleeper Agent Is Now Its Worst Nightmare

A stoner - who is in fact a government agent - is marked as a liability and targeted for extermination. But he's too well-trained and too high for them to handle.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend:
$5,454,284 on 2,778 Screens.
Domestic Gross:

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-X
Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1
English DTS 2.0
English Descriptive Audio
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 11/24/2015

• Audio Commentary with Director Nima Nourizadeh
• “Activating American Ultra” Featurettes
• “Assassinating on a Budget” Featurette
• Gag Reel
• Previews


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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American Ultra [Blu-Ray] (2015)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 10, 2015)

Jesse Eisenberg: action star? I guess stranger things have happened, and that’s the premise at the heart of 2015’s American Ultra.

Mike Howell (Eisenberg) lives in tiny Liman, West Virginia. Along with his girlfriend Phoebe Larson (Kristen Stewart), he pursues the idle life of the stoner, as he cares about little more than getting high and writing comics.

All of this changes when CIA agent Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) steps into the convenience store where he works. It turns out that Mike is a “sleeper operative” trained as part of a discarded program called “Project Ultra”.

CIA rep Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) wants to eliminate the Ultras, but Lasseter prefers to keep Mike alive. She “activates” him and allows his training to emerge, as Mike learns when he expertly dispatches two assassins sent to kill him. We follow Mike’s journey as he tries to avoid his demise at the hands of Yates’ operatives.

Though 1962’s Manchurian Candidate remains probably the most famous movie about a “sleeper agent”, Ultra clearly takes its cues from another source: the “Bourne” films. Heck, Ultra even names Mike’s town “Liman” after the director of The Bourne Identity.

Unfortunately, Ultra doesn’t compare favorably with the Bourne stories – or other action flicks, for that matter. The premise of Ultra creates an interesting twist on the genre, but the movie doesn’t do much with it.

Probably the biggest problem with Ultra stems from its inconsistent tone. Does it want to bring us a comedy/spoof or does it want to be a straight-up Bourne-style action thriller?

I don’t know, and I don’t think the filmmakers do, either. Ultra mixes these elements in an almost random manner that makes the end result a mushy melange. Though the movie dabbles in stylistic choices, it fails to embrace them well enough to succeed.

That leaves the movie as less than coherent – and not especially enjoyable. The comedy never seems very funny, and the action feels perfunctory and dull. While we find many sequences that should deliver big thrills, these don’t occur. Instead, the violence and mayhem feel tacked-on and half-hearted.

None of the actors do much with their parts. I guess I’m happy Eisenberg branches out a bit, but he feels unconvincing as Mike, and Stewart remains too impassive to impress. None of the supporting performers stand out, either.

All of this ends with a mediocre movie. American Ultra is too competent to become a bad film, but it never settles into a rhythm. It mainly meanders along without a ton of entertainment value.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus B-

American Ultra appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became a solid presentation.

Overall sharpness remained good. A smattering of wider elements could seem a little soft, but those didn’t create real distractions. Instead, the movie tended to be accurate and concise. I noticed no shimmering or jaggies, and the film lacked edge haloes or source flaws.

The palette opted for a mix of yellow and teal. Within stylistic choices, the hues looked fine. Blacks were deep and dense, while low-light shots depicted appropriate clarity. The image seemed to be more than satisfactory.

Ultra came with a DTS-X soundtrack that downconverted to DTS-HD MA 7.1 on my system. With plenty of action scenes, the mix often opened up to give us active information. These used the various speakers to create an involving, effective sense of these situations and circumstances. The elements meshed together well and moved in a satisfying manner.

Audio quality also pleased. Music was peppy and full, while dialogue sounded accurate and concise. Effects demonstrated good clarity and range, with fine low-end response as necessary. This wasn’t quite a demo-worthy track, but it fared well.

As we shift to extras, we find an audio commentary with director Nima Nourizadeh. In this running, screen-specific chat, he addresses story/characters, cast and performances, sets and locations, music, effects, stunts and action.

When Nourizadeh speaks, he tends to offer fairly good information. No, he doesn’t prove to be fascinating, but he contributes some nice insights.

Unfortunately, Nourizadeh lets a lot of the movie pass in silence, and that makes it frustrating. We still get enough content to allow the chat to become worthwhile, but it remains inconsistent.

The two-part Activating American Ultra runs 40 minutes, 22 seconds and features Nourizadeh, writer Max Landis, producer David Alpert and Anthony Bregman, stunt coordinator Robert Alonzo, and actors Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Connie Britton, Tony Hale, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo and Topher Grace. We learn about the project’s roots and development, story/character domains, cast and performances, action, stunts and the depiction of violence, and Nourizadeh’s impact on the production. The mix of comments and behind the scenes footage turns this into an effective program.

Assassinating on a Budget fills three minutes, 25 seconds. It shows the everyday items Mike uses to stop his opponents and gives us their costs. It’s a weird featurette and only mildly interesting.

Next we get a Gag Reel. It goes for two minutes, 42 seconds and offers the standard assortment of goofs and giggles. It seems pretty ordinary.

The disc opens with ads for Sicario, Cooties, She’s Funny That Way, The End of the Tour, Twilight Forever and Now You See Me. No trailer for Ultra appears here.

With a clever premise and a lot of action, American Ultra should have become a lively adventure. Instead, it seems flat and lackluster much of the time, without much sizzle to enliven the tale. The Blu-ray offers very good picture and audio as well as a few useful supplements. Ultra gives us a forgettable action flick.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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