American Ultra (Blu-ray Review)

American UltraJesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart star in this dynamic thrill ride that mixes explosive action with edgy humor. Mike (Eisenberg) shares a small-town life with his girlfriend Phoebe )Stewart). But Mike’s sleepy world goes wild after he discovers that he’s actually a CIA sleeper agent with lethal fighting skills – and the target of government hitmen. Mike, the ultimate slacker, transforms into an ultra-attacker as he and Phoebe fight to survive in this exhilarating adventure.  

American Ultra


American Ultra is one of those films that I was sort of dying to see in theaters but for whatever reason couldn’t make it to the show during it’s extremely limited theatrical run (it bombed), so I figured Blu-ray would be the next best thing. American Ultra stars Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen of various film fame. It was written by Max Landis (Chronicle) and directed by Nima Nourizadeh (Project X).

Eisenberg plays Mike and Stewart plays his devoted girlfriend Phoebe. They’re both stoners and spend the majority of their time together getting stoned and working menial jobs for a pittance. Actually, I think Mike is the only one that works, and at a gas station in fact. He spends his day dealing with grumpy customers all the while rolling joints behind the cash register. What a gig!

One day, after realizing that a top-secret government project in which the unlikeliest of people are sleeper CIA operatives is getting the axe by the higher-ups at the organization – Agent Victoria Lassiter (Connie Britton) breaks protocol and makes her way to Mike’s sleepy town in Florida to warn him that he is in danger. Actually, I should say that she’s not actually warning him but that she’s “activating” him with certain phrases. When that doesn’t work the team of actual assassins sent out by “junior” wannabe director of the agency Yates (Topher Grace) inadvertently force Mike’s activation.

Like flipping the switch to a light bulb Mike becomes the ultimate killing machine in a flash. Taking household items and turning them into lethal weapons of death, Mike goes to work on the assassins sent to kill him, all while trying to keep his relationship going with Phoebe. American Ultra is not anything deep or meaningful. It is one hell of a thrill ride, though.

I was able to buy Jesse Eisenberg as this Bourne-like killing machine, because he was never as suave or slick as Bourne was. I think that’s part of the charm. As simple and fun as the film is there is a lot of backstory that seems to be missing. How far the program goes into recruiting these “agents of destruction” is never really expanded outside of a few passing phrases, which hinders the film a bit. I think the film could have used an extra 10-20 minutes of running time to expand on this world. The acting is fine by everyone involved although there are a few characters that are slightly over the top.

I think since the film was not a commercial success theatrically the likelihood that a sequel would see the light of day is wishful thinking on my part. Granted, a DTV sequel is always on the table, with different actors of course. In any event, American Ultra is worth a look.


American Ultra


Encoding: AVC/MPEG-4

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail: Going in blind to American Ultra I figure it would have a sleek finish to the video presentation but I was shocked to see that it had an “ultra” soft presentation that didn’t necessarily do it any favors. There’s plenty of detail and clarity to be had but some of the filters used to illuminate certain scenes just flatten it sometimes.

Depth: Depending on the scenes there are some nice set-ups that look great in high definition. I think Eisenberg’s character works at one of the nicest convenience stores I’ve ever seen. Their electricity bill must be huge!

Black Levels: Black levels are average. I only notice some mild crushing but nothing horrible.

Color Reproduction: The color palette goes from being vibrant to being drab to being quite colorful in a certain scene involving blue lights and weird mural paintings in a basement area.

Flesh Tones: Folks look as good unless they are dying. Eisenberg and Stewart retain that stoner chic without any problems.

Noise/Artifacts: I didn’t notice any dirt, debris, scratches, noise, or any other anomalies when I watched the film.


American Ultra


Audio Format(s): English DTS: X, Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1, English DTS Digital Surround Audio Optimized for Late-Night Listening, English Descriptive Audio

Subtitles: English, Spanish, English SDH

Dynamics: The DTS X soundtrack output to a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 in my case and it was downright awesome! What the film loses in the questionable video aesthetic more than makes up for it in the audio department. This is one of these soundtracks that were made for Blu-ray.

Low Frequency Extension: The low-end bass shook the house without distortion. There are many scenes of violence and non-violence alike that benefit from having an awesome LFE channel.

Surround Sound Presentation: The rear channels handled the gunshots, flying debris, splinters, etc., without a problem. Channel separation was great and the rear channels never drowned out the front stage of the presentation.

Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue was crystal clear.


American Ultra


American Ultra has a few supplements worthy of mentioning. The top-2 that take the cake are a 40-minute featurette on the making of the film, which is entertaining, and a cool and thoughtful feature length audio commentary by director Nima Nourizadeh. A gag reel and a superfluous “assassinating on a budget” featurette that basically gathers up all of the “kill scenes” and shows you what inexpensive products were used to kill. This Blu-ray set also includes a DVD and Digital HD copy of the film.

  • “Activating American Ultra” Documentary (HD)
  • “Assassinating on a Budget” Featurette (HD)
  • Gag Reel (HD)
  • Audio Commentary by Director Nima Nourizadeh
  • DVD
  • Digital HD UltraViolet Copy 



American Ultra


American Ultra doesn’t quite seal the deal in terms of a “Bourne for a new generation” but it is a fun little romp of movie. I liked it enough due to how “ultra” violent it was but it did need a bit more depth. The 90-minute or so (without credits) running time hinders the project, because it needed a bit more room to develop – maybe an added 10-20 minutes. Since the film bombed in theaters I doubt we’ll get a sequel. In any even the Blu-ray has decent video and reference audio, with some above average special features. I give American Ultra a mild recommendation.



American Ultra is available on Blu-ray & DVD!




American Ultra


Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

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