“American Ultra” is a contradiction. On the one hand, it’s being sold as a kind of action-comedy, sort of one part “Lethal Weapon,” one part “The Bourne Identity” and one part “Pineapple Express.” On the other hand, it only delivers on a handful of the action elements — and it isn’t very funny.
It stars Jesse Eisenberg as Mike Howell, a stoner working at a convenient store who lives with his girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart). One night while working, Mike viciously attacks two guys like Bourne with a dash of Tarantino. He explains all this to Phoebe, who really doesn’t know whether to believe him.
As it turns out, Mike is secretly some kind of agent for the CIA without his knowledge. Topher Grace co-stars as a department head who has seized control of the program of which Mike is a part and calls for the deaths of all in it.
Mike and Phoebe do everything they can to stay one step of ahead of the CIA, which means getting involved in some pretty hairy predicaments, none of which is the least bit believable or comprehensible.
These performances deserve a better movie instead of one that is noisy, incoherent and chaotic. Eisenberg and Stewart try their best to have chemistry, but the plot and its tone are downers. Any attempts at comedy are dashed by the graphic and relentless violence.
“American Ultra” does have some good action in addition to some technical expertise — including the finale, which is actually quite exciting — but the basic premise falls flat. It’s too uneven and repetitive for me to recommend it. Maybe the cast and filmmakers should’ve watched “Spy” from earlier this summer to find a better balance of action and comedy.
(Rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, drug use and some sexual content.)
Hall is a syndicated columnist in South Georgia.