Pothead Mike (Eisenberg) lives a rather mundane and potentially-idyllic life in Nowheresville, USA with his sweet squeeze Pheobe (Stewart), but he has dark secrets in his past that even he’s utterly unaware of. When he finds a couple of strangers tampering with his car in the parking lot of the downmarket grocery store where he ekes out a living, he suddenly explodes into action as a ruthless, agile killing machine and within seconds two men lay dead. Not unnaturally, Mike freaks out and calls on Phoebe for help and moral support. Mike, as it turns out, is a brainwashed CIA ‘sleeper’ agent, a super-soldier adept at extreme death-dealing and now the subject of a CIA termination order. His world is quickly turned upside down and inside out when an army of CIA agents, including the psychopathic Laughter (Goggins), turn up en masse with orders to wipe Mike out with extreme force. To compound Mike’s very bad day, it also seems that his beloved Phoebe isn’t quite who he thought she was either...
One of the main problems with American Ultra is that it really has just one ace up its sleeve and when it’s out in the open there’s not much left it can do to surprise its audience. We know that Mike is capable of extraordinary violence – and how – and it’s just a matter of seeing him come to terms with it and using his skills to outwit the CIA, led by the inept and over-ambitious Adrian Yates (Grace). The film’s uneven tone doesn’t really help either. It’s at its best before the madness kicks off and Eisenberg seems more at home as Mike the eager-to-please stoner than as Mike the kick-ass killer. The film’s humour is shunted aside in favour of bone-crunching violence and when these are run side-by-side both are compromised as they’re uneasy bedfellows which don’t sit well together. But lovers of buckets of blood and people getting shot in the head will find much to enjoy, Eisenberg is typically good value and Kristen Stewart, distanced now from the loathsome Twilight franchise, is really shaping up into a formidable screen talent.
American Ultra isn’t really able to live up to the potential of its principal conceit and whilst it hasn’t found much favour at the Box Office we suspect it’ll develop into a bit of a cult favourite (stick around for the inspired animated end credits sequence, by the way) and find its true audience with the beer’n’-pizza stay-at-home crowd.
AMERICAN ULTRA / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: NIMA NOURIZADEH / SCREENPLAY: MAX LANDIS / STARRING: JESSE EISENBERG, KRISTEN STEWART, TOPHER GRACE, CONNIE BRITTON, WALTER GOGGINS, BILL PULLMAN, TONY HALE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10