A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that American Ultra is an action comedy with tons of violence, blood, and gore, as well as pot smoking. The violence is really over the top, with shooting, fighting, beating with blunt objects, stabbing, slicing, spurting blood, dead bodies, explosions, and more. Language is very strong, with uses of "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," and the "N" word. Characters smoke pot or cigarettes in several scenes, and one character snorts cocaine. Sex is implied between the two leads; kissing is shown, and brief flashbacks focusing on faces suggest sexual pleasure. There's also sex-related dialogue and paintings of topless women in sexual poses. The closing credit sequence, which is animated, have even stronger sexual and violent images that flash by quickly. The movie has been marketed as a "stoner comedy" and seems aimed at fans of Pineapple Express, Harold and Kumar, and other similar movies.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) lives in West Virginia and is mostly happy smoking pot and spending time with his girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart). They try to go to Hawaii for a romantic getaway, but an anxiety attack prevents them from leaving. And when Mike is attacked at his job at a local market, some kind of forgotten training kicks in, and he kills two men. The CIA takes notice, and Mike's former handler (Connie Britton) tries to save him, while a nasty, bullying agent (Topher Grace) sets up a large sting operation, including more than a dozen trained killers, to take him out. But all Mike wants to do is find the right moment to propose to Phoebe.
Is it any good?
The movie's excessive, reckless violence rolls right over most of the comedy, but the two leads are so charming together that they save the day. AMERICAN ULTRA focuses, first and foremost, on its action, with lightning-quick fight scenes and shoot outs, as well as their bloody aftermath; characters go through the story wearing blood and gore spattered into just about every crevice. (In fact, it may be destined to freak out its potential cult stoner audience!)
Unfortunately, while the screenplay by Max Landis appears to have been meant to be funny, director Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) lets the comedy dissipate as the action grows larger (though a very funny John Leguizamo helps). Grace further sours things with his sadistic performance as an evil, bullying CIA man. But, in the end, Eisenberg is so thoroughly charming, and his chemistry with Stewart (carried over from Adventureland) is so sweet, that we can't help rooting for them to succeed.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the drug use and smoking in American Ultra. Is it glamorized? Does it look fun or appealing? What are the consequences? Do you think movies like this one encourage drug use, or do they reflect drug use that already exists?
How prevalent is violence in the movie? Is it over the top? How did you react to it? How was the violence used to achieve this reaction?
How is sex depicted between the main couple, and how is it represented elsewhere? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
Is the Topher Grace character a bully? How is he dealt with? How does it feel? What message does it send? Is there a better way of handling characters like that?
- In theaters: August 21, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: November 24, 2015
- Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Connie Britton
- Director: Nima Nourizadeh
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 96 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong bloody violence, language throughout, drug use and some sexual content