IT DOESN’T GET MUCH BETTER THAN THIS: As they stretch out on the hood of their car, Mike (Jesse Eisenberg, left) and his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) enjoy an evening under the stars. The pair are content to get together and get high after work each day. However, their easy-going life is about to be turned upside down when assassins try to kill Mike. (Photo © 2015 – Lionsgate)
When you meet him, Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) appears to be a prototypical slacker with not much of a future. The small town stoner is content to fritter away his life behind the counter of the local convenience store as long as he can go home every day and get high with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart).
It’s hard to figure out why she puts up with this loser who has no ambition and has a crippling fear of flying that prevents him from travelling very far from Lymon, West Virginia. After all, Phoebe is attractive and has a decent career as a bail bondsman. Nevertheless, she sticks with him, even after he has a panic attack in the airport and aborts their plans for a perfect Hawaiian getaway. Mike was as upset as Phoebe when he failed to board the plane, because he had purchased a diamond ring and was going to pop the question during their vacation.
Phoebe has no idea that her beau is a sleeper agent who has been trained to be a deadly assassin by a U.S. government spy agency. Mike is also unaware of it too, since a part of his brain was turned off when the program was put in mothballs.
However, the couple is in for the shock of their lives soon after Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) decides to have Mike put to death. The callous bureaucrat dispatches killers to Lymon to prevent the remote chance that the dormant asset might somehow be activated and go rogue.
Mike surprises himself when the hit men arrive to kill him. He unexpectedly displays an array of prodigious fighting and survival skills that have been implanted deep in his subconscious and almost effortlessly slays his attackers. Yates nevertheless remains determined to complete the mission, gradually upping the ante as Mike manages to vanquish each escalating wave of adversaries.
Thus unfolds American Ultra, an entertaining action comedy directed by Nima Nourizadeh (Project X). This novel adventure alternates effortlessly between lighthearted and graphic scenes.
The movie also generates a palpable chemistry between Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, which ensures that we care about their fate when the plot thickens. Alternately sophisticated and silly, but ever unpredictable thanks to a few cleverly concealed twists, American Ultra is a delightful summer sleeper that is not to be missed.
Excellent (****). Rated R for graphic violence, pervasive profanity, ethnic slurs, drug use, and some sexuality. Running time: 96 minutes. Distributor: Lionsgate Films.