American Ultra Review
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The scorching days of late summer seem to be the perfect time to head to the theater to see a stoner comedy—because they’re generally brainless and silly and totally laid-back. But while the stoner spy thriller American Ultra is definitely brainless and silly, there’s nothing laid-back about it.

American Ultra follows the story of a mild-mannered stoner who finds himself in the middle of a deadly government mission. Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) lives in a small West Virginia town with his girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart). One night, during his shift at a local convenience store, he gets a visit from a strange woman (Connie Britton), after which two men attack him in the parking lot. When he somehow manages to kill both men using just the items in his hand, he realizes that something strange is happening to him. And it becomes even stranger when he learns the truth: that he was a part of a secret CIA program that’s been marked for termination.

Ultra-violent and sometimes surprisingly graphic, American Ultra definitely isn’t what you’d expect from a late-summer stoner comedy. As Mike and Phoebe find themselves targeted by an ever-growing band of trained assassins, they’re forced to fight back in increasingly outrageous ways.

Unfortunately, though, while this secret CIA program clearly turned Mike into a skilled assassin, it didn’t give him any common sense. Even after he’s been reactivated, allowing him to take down whole teams of crazed warriors single-handedly, he’s just as bumbling and clueless as ever. And though Phoebe is supposed to be the smart, responsible one, she seems just as oblivious. The two make a good pair—and the idea of a couple of flannel-shirt-wearing slackers battling CIA assassins is pretty clever—but the characters’ sometimes idiotic choices can be maddening.

The plot, meanwhile, is about as hazy and half-baked as its main character. The backstory comes out in sporadic hints and asides, as if the filmmakers were making it up as they went along. Mike volunteered for the CIA’s experiment, though it’s never really clear what it was or what it was supposed to accomplish. For some reason, however, the project didn’t go as planned—and, for some reason, a power-hungry CIA agent (Topher Grace) is now determined to kill off some guy who had absolutely no knowledge of his involvement in the project, even if it means destroying an entire town in the process. Somewhere in here, there could be an interesting story—but no one took the time to think it through and make it work.

Late August is the perfect time to release an ultra-violent but dim-witted movie like American Ultra—because it seems specifically designed for frat-brother bonding. If you’re perfectly sober and looking for an adventure that’s both entertaining and just slightly logical, though, you might want to try something else.

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