Movie Review: “American Ultra”

Starring
Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo
Director
Nima Nourizadeh

After making his directorial debut with the totally distasteful and juvenile found footage comedy, “Project X,” it wouldn’t have been surprising if Nima Nourizadeh never worked in Hollywood again. But someone clearly saw something in the filmmaker that warranted giving him another chance, and while he doesn’t exactly redeem himself with the action-comedy “American Ultra,” it does prove that he’s at least somewhat competent behind the camera. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement, and deservedly so, because although the movie boasts a talented cast and intriguing premise, it never amounts to more than a mildly amusing end-of-summer distraction that squanders its considerable potential under the indecisive direction of Nourizadeh.

Jesse Eisenberg stars as Mike Howell, an unambitious stoner who’s perfectly content with his mundane life in West Virginia alongside his live-in girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart). Mike is completely in love with her, and even plans a romantic getaway to trip in order to propose, but for some reason, he keeps having panic attacks that prevent him from leaving town. Unbeknownst to him, his crippling anxiety is actually a side effect from an experimental government program he volunteered for that wiped his memory and turned him into a CIA sleeper agent. When the program’s architect, Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton), learns that bureaucratic brownnoser Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) plans to terminate all the subjects from the abandoned project, she decides to activate Mike using a secret code phrase and give him a fair shot at survival. But it doesn’t work as expected – that is, until Yates sends a pair of assassins to kill Mike and he snaps out of his daze, dispatching them with only a spoon and a cup of ramen. Marked for death and forced to go on the run, Mike must utilize his new abilities to rescue Phoebe when she’s kidnapped by Yates and his team of programmed killers.

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Movie Review: “Now You See Me”

Starring
Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Dave Franco
Director
Louis Leterrier

It takes balls of steel to write a film like “Now You See Me.” It’s the screenwriter declaring to the moviegoing public that he or she is smarter than they are, which motivates the audience to prove them wrong. Now, to be fair to the screenwriters of this particular film, anyone who says they figured out the ending before the Big Reveal just got lucky. At the same time, there are a lot of things about the movie that are a little…off, and not in a ‘this is a clue in disguise’ kind of way. The characters themselves tell you that you’re too close to see the big picture. As it turns out, the movie is the same way. It’s a thrill to watch while it’s happening, but take a step back when the credits roll, and it reveals itself to be a house of cards.

J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are talented illusionists with varying degrees of success – a couple of them are actually cons – when they receive a mysterious invitation to meet in an abandoned building. One year later, they are performing together in Las Vegas as the Four Horsemen, and they execute a dazzling stunt that involves robbing a bank halfway around the world. This, naturally, attracts the attention of both the FBI and Interpol, which leads to cynic Fed Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) being teamed up with French desk jockey Alma Day (Melanie Laurent). Watching from the sidelines with bemusement is Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), an illusionist who has made a career out of debunking other illusionists. Rhodes isn’t sure whether he is trustworthy or another piece in a larger puzzle.

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