Sunday, August 23, 2015

Review: American Ultra

Image courtesy of Lionsgate.
"American Ultra" feels like the result of a mix-up at the screenwriting laboratory. On the one hand, it wants to be a stoner comedy with quirky characters, while on the other, it's an ultra-violent espionage movie as well as sort of a romance. All of these elements do not exactly blend naturally, although the film has its charms, a few funny moments and some decent - albeit gratuitously violent - action sequences.

In the film, Jesse Eisenberg plays Mike Howell, a wake-and-bake convenient store clerk whose raison d'etre is his stoner girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), but who feels as if he is constantly letting her down. As the movie opens, they are planning to take a trip to Hawaii, but Mike cannot get past his phobias and anxieties, so the trip is called off.

Meanwhile in Washington D.C., a CIA agent played by Connie Britton is told that the cover is going to be blown on an operative she has in the field and that said agent is to be eliminated. As it turns out, that operative is Mike, who is programmed in a "Manchurian Candidate" manner, so that whenever specific nonsensical words are spoken to him, he becomes a professional killer.

Much of the film involves Mike and Phoebe attempting to figure out Mike's identity as a smarmy CIA bigwig played by Topher Grace sends out hired killer after hired killer to snuff out the duo. Whenever the characters aren't speaking in expository dialogue, they are stabbing people in the neck with spoons or hitting them in the face with hammers.

The plot lines of "American Ultra" don't always work well together and the story is a little threadbare. What makes it occasionally work is that Eisenberg and Stewart prove they are game for the film's unrelenting silliness and, as a couple, there is some charm on display.

I rarely laughed out loud during the film, but I smiled often enough. And although I wouldn't go as far as saying that it works, I can assure you that you could do worse when it comes to mindless summer fare.

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