American Ultra (3 stars)

American Ultra

credit: Alan Markfield

Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg front this witty and energetic action-comedy

Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg make for a charming pairing in an anarchic stoner action-comedy that sees true love flourish amidst blazing brutality. Director Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) delivers an energetic second feature, with a winningly witty and surprisingly sweet screenplay from Max Landis (son of John).

Mike (Eisenberg) feels ready to pop the question to girlfriend Phoebe (Stewart) but his every attempt at a grand romantic gesture is thwarted. He's also an unknowing product of a CIA experiment and, once activated, becomes the target for an explosive attack in the small West Virginia town where he resides which, in turn, really slims his chances of proposing.

Phoebe is something of a caregiver given Mike's clumsy ways but, when shit gets real and the bullets start flying, they form an unexpectedly great alliance. Mike also teams up with the very capable Agent Lasseter (Connie Britton), whose nemesis is her cost-cutting temporary boss Adrian (Topher Grace).

The casting of Eisenberg as a Bourne-style agent, programmed with a set of skills that enables him to kill a man with a spoon or frying pan, is ripe for comic pickings. After his first face-off he trembles and twitches behind a pole at the convenience store where he works, in a fine demonstration of physical comedy. Goofy moments of slapstick are also inserted throughout, perhaps in a respectful nod to Landis Senior’s espionage spoof Spies Like Us. Landis Junior (who also wrote Chronicle) thankfully doesn’t make his leads as bumbling as in the aforementioned, nor are his psychopathic villains as one-note, but he does poke fun at the spy genre with an affectionate hand.

There are shades of the enjoyable Grosse Pointe Blank in its sense of humour, mayhem levels and momentum. And, although it sometimes veers into off-putting caricature, American Ultra revels in the amusing bewilderment that comes when a couple of star-crossed slackers are thrust into a violent situation, with the dry one-liners proving very quotable.

General release from Fri 4 Sep.

American Ultra

  • 3 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 1h 35min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Nima Nourizadeh
  • Cast: Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg, Uma Thurman
  • UK release: 4 September 2015

Mike (Eisenberg) is a West Virginia stoner about to pop the question to girlfriend Phoebe (Stewart) when he's attacked by two men and discovers assassin skills he didn't know he had. Energetic action comedy with a witty and surprisingly sweet screenplay; Stewart and Eisenberg are great.