Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
AMERICAN ULTRA is an action-comedy that touts plenty of unapologetic fun. The film tells the tale of two stoner love-birds Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) and Phoebe (Kristin Stewart) whose world is turned upside down once – to quote THE BIG LEBOWSKI – “new shit comes to light.” Turns out Mike is actually a deadly sleeper assassin and the government that created him, now wants to destroy him. The key to his survival is remembering those action-hero skills they ingrained deep in his memory. You know, that ol’ story.
To celebrate its release this Friday, we wanted to drop some knowledge on y’all to enhance your enjoyment.
10. Director Nima Nourizadeh made a “bible” for the movie. It included character descriptions, images he wanted to include, thematic elements and subliminal messages. Sort of like a “mood board,” but in binder formant.
9. The inspiration for Max Landis’ script came from the CIA’s covert mind-control program, MKUltra. Established in 1953 and halted in 1973, one of the operation’s efforts was to turn regular folk into Jason Bourne-level mercenaries. The program was also hell bent on creating psychotropic drugs for use when interrogating subjects.
8. It’s a mini-ADVENTURELAND reunion for Stewart and Eisenberg.
7. The film blends multiple genres. Action, comedy and, of all things, a sweet love story.
6. Liman, West Virginia doesn’t actually exist. The film shot outside of New Orleans, Louisiana.
5. THE DEER HUNTER inspired production design. The town of Liman is supposed to resemble a blue-collar one. The town’s warmer colors contrasts significantly against the cool blue hues and modern lines of the government headquarters.
4. Eisenberg did his own stunts – most of them. He was trained by stunt coordinator Robert Alonzo, who routinely works with Tom Cruise (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, OBLIVION, MENA).
3. 2 Live Crew’s “Hootchie Mama” was also used in FRIDAY. In AMERICAN ULTRA, the song plays when Mike’s drug dealer Rose (John Leguizamo) locks Mike and Phoebe in his basement. Here’s where it memorably plays in FRIDAY.
Sub-fun fact: FRIDAY was directed by F. Gary Gray, who directed STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, a film which employed the above mentioned Robert Alonzo as a stunt performer.
2. Landis was inspired to write that Max Superstore long-take fight scene in a Wal-Mart. When he was writing the film, he would walk through the super store taking notes on what would be available to the character and how it could be used as a weapon.
1. The Apollo Ape end credits animation is by Gary Leib. The talented animator/ underground cartoonist has also worked on AMERICAN SPLENDOR and PRIME. His work has also been featured in The New Yorker and The New York Times. If that’s not enough, he designed a line of promotional toys for The Hershey’s Company.
AMERICAN ULTRA opens on August 21.