One of the great injustices of American cinema is the lack of respect afforded to Kristen Stewart due to the insipid drudgery of a certain YA saga adaptation which she made her name, in spite of the series of impressive performances she has made since. One of her lesser-considered efforts, 2015 action comedy American Ultra, is coming to Netflix for your viewing pleasure on July 10th.
The plot sees stoner convenience store clerk Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) living a simple life in a small town and planning to propose to his girlfriend Phoebe (Stewart). Problem is, before he’s able to do so he becomes embroiled in a government conspiracy after it’s revealed he’s a sleeper agent and that hidden in the recesses of the past he can’t remember is training as an assassin through a shady black-ops program of mental conditioning, resulting in endless waves of hitmen coming after him.
Despite beginning the story as the love interest, Stewart isn’t confined to such a role to be imperiled by the escalating action, and has more than a little opportunity to showcase her own physical capabilities, as well as forming the emotional heart of proceedings.
The base concept is inspired by Project MKUltra, a now-declassified program of human experimentation run by the CIA from the ‘50s to the ‘70s that attempted to use the likes of psychotropic drugs, hypnosis, and electroshocks to program people’s minds. The film humorously imagines how it might affect someone whose brain chemistry was already messed up through the use of illicit substances, resulting in multiple fight scenes with improvised weaponry featuring a clueless hero seemingly not in control of his own actions.
It’s unfair, but the staggering mediocrity of Twilight and banal vacuity of Bella Swan will forever be a millstone around Kristen Stewart’s neck. If more people look past her performance of a character who was literally written to be devoid of personality and take in pretty much everything else she’s done they might be pleasantly surprised, something her place in the anarchic relentlessness of American Ultra exemplifies perfectly.