Dig Baton Rouge

Film in Review

By Bill Arceneaux

Let’s take a moment to think about actor Walton Goggins. A most specific name for a most specific face. Film writer Hawk Ripjaw created the Tumblr page waltongogginslookalikes.tumblr.com in honor of the fact that Mr. Goggins’ looks are much like a snowflake; only he looks the way he does. The man could be the new Gary Busey in terms of sheer facial power and recognition alone. Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino sees something in him—a dedication to craft, a willingness and skill to play hard characters, et cetera—which I’m quite happy about. But it’s far too easy for a director just to rely on Walton’s face for effect.

Gogginsploitation? American Ultra doesn’t have much in the way of gaining our attention, but it does have THAT on its side.

Now, please don’t take my bizarre focus on a man’s face as a negative. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. For Walton Goggins, it’s a blessing as an actor. To harness all of your skill and protrude it out of your skull is something people like Nicolas Cage only wish they could do. The locally shot American Ultra takes full advantage of this gift, never to a detriment. Of course, to roll the roulette wheel of your movie’s fate on a single element is never a good idea. And I’m not suggesting that the filmmakers intended to do that, but I am of the opinion that they knew to prominently showcase it at the very least.

And why not? The film as it stands is an almost eye gouging bore. Promoted as being a Pineapple Express meets The Bourne Identity style action comedy, American Ultra is really more dark drama than anything. People die horribly, are tortured viciously, and insult one another with highly mean spirited vulgarity. It’s ghastly to hear and grim to watch. Tone deaf as well. For every “dramatic” or “funny” moment, there are multiple cues missed. Cues that could’ve helped punctuate the sequence and inform us as to how to feel. Confused technique equals confused audience equals bored audience. Action happens, sure, but just about everything else can either be predicted or pulled from another film. Points established early on—panic attacks, cartoon characters—are never brought back up and paid off, leading me to believe that either the movie went through the editing ringer a bit too much, or the writer wasn’t paying attention.

As I stated earlier, not all is negative. For a stoner movie, there are plenty of smoke-related visuals used, creatively too. Do they add much to the story or characters? No, but at least the crew is trying. CIA officials shot, lit, and framed as dangerous people are a plus, and a black light basement gag made for something to direct my sight towards. Did these bits add anything of value? Yes, but only slightly. Walton Goggins’ assassin villain, named “Laugher,” first appears on screen in silhouette, tearfully laughing (get it?) maniacally. Does this add something?

Hell yes.

Goggins must’ve known he was cast just for his ability to sound and, more importantly, look like a scary crazy person. And boy, does he pull it off for the time he’s on camera. Am I advocating buying a ticket for this misguided near mediocre and semi-creative film JUST for one man’s performance? JUST for one man’s face?

Absolutely, I am.

If only there were a movie watching app that would notify you when to look up from your book or whatever anytime Goggins came on…

1.5 / 5 *s

For more from the author, follow him on Twitter @BillReviews

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