'Hitman: Agent 47' and 'American Ultra' Movie Reviews
Two movies inspired by the same idea are being released the same weekend.
By DAVID BLAUSTEIN
August 21, 2015, 6:27 PM
• 5 min read
-- "Hitman: Agent 47," Rated R, Two out of five stars
"American Ultra," Rated R, Three-and-a-half out of five stars
We’ve got two movie reviews for the price of one today. That’s because Hollywood is giving us a double feature of covert, government spy programs gone wrong: one movie is a second attempt at turning a video game franchise into a movie franchise, and the other is written by Max Landis, who also wrote 2012’s surprise hit "Chronicle" and is the son of acclaimed director John Landis.
We’ll go from worst to first. "Hitman: Agent 47" is the one inspired by the video game franchise. We tried this before with Timothy Olyphant in 2007’s "Hitman." That movie earned nearly $40 million in North America and $100 million internationally. Given that it reportedly cost around $25 million to make, it was a financial success, though hardly a blockbuster.
Eight years later, Rupert Friend plays the exact same character Olyphant did. To make a confusing and ridiculous story more simple to understand, we’re now told the government sanctioned a secret program to create extraordinary, genetically engineered secret agents. Agent 47 is one of them, and has been tasked with finding the program’s creator before the nefarious “Syndicate” gets its hands on him in an effort to create an army of super assassins.
Meanwhile, "American Ultra" stars Jesse Eisenberg as a neurotic stoner named Mike who lives in a small town with his girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart). Mike works at a convenience store that never has any customers, which gives him plenty of time to muse over life through the drawings he loves to create. Mike also has no recollection of what his life was like before he met Phoebe. That’s because he was part of a secret CIA program in which he was trained to be -- surprise! -- a sleeper assassin.
Really, Hollywood? Two movies inspired by the same idea, released the same weekend?
At least one of these movies is worth seeing. The other one is not. Care to take a guess? Go with the movie written by John Landis’ son and starring two actors who’ve had on-screen success together before. That would be Jessie Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. Remember 2009’s "Adventureland"?
Eisenberg has taken some PR hits lately but neither they, nor his often misunderstood demeanor, should detract from his frenetic, brilliant portrayal of Mike, a character not exactly original but Eisenberg, Landis and director Nima Nourizadeh -- here helming only his second feature, the first being the 2012 comedy "Project X" -- collaborate to make Mike jump off the screen and a joy to watch, no matter how many people he stabs with kitchen utensils. And not that she apparently cares, but I feel a bit bad people assume Kristen Stewart is a bad actress because of the wooden character she played in the "Twilight" movies. She’s a formidable presence here, as she has been in just about every film in which her character doesn’t want to sleep with a vampire.
To summarize: "Hitman: Agent 47" does deliver sleek production values and a stand-out performance from Hannah Ware, who plays the estranged daughter of the man who created the Agent program. Other than that, it’s a nonsensical story that feels as if it was written by a 10-year-old who plays too many video games. On the flipside, "American Ultra" could have been a better movie but even so, you’ll be entertained. The bad guy (Topher Grace) didn’t need to be so arch and mostly all of the supporting characters could have been more believable, but Eisenberg and Stewart are completely worth the price of admission.