A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Mixing such disparate genres requires a more deft hand than the one on display from director Nima Nourizadeh, whose previous feature is the found-footage, high-school pukefest “Project X.” “American Ultra” has far more sophisticated production values than that first film—then again, so does your average wedding video—but it’s just as bludgeoning. Yet the script from Max Landis (“Chronicle”) starts out with all the grungy, morose trappings of your typical small-town, indie drama.
Jesse Eisenberg stars as Mike Howell, a long-haired stoner who works at a vividly run-down convenience store in desolate and remote West Virginia. His only goal in life is to propose to his girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), a bail bondsman with whom he shares a bong, a home and, hopefully, a lifetime. Mike knows he doesn’t deserve her (and for a while, it’s a wonder why she stays with him, given that there’s not much to him), and one of the few charming running gags involves his inability to find just the right time to pop the question.
Then one night at work, a strange woman walks up to him at the checkout counter, utters some strange words while buying a cup of soup and walks out. Suddenly, he finds he has the ability to swiftly kill two bad guys who come at him in the parking lot, with the spoon from the aforementioned soup, which the strange woman left behind. As it turns out, Mike is a highly-trained operative from an abandoned government program, and that woman (Connie Britton) was a CIA agent who came to activate him in hopes of keeping him alive.
And now it makes sense that “American Ultra” takes place in a town called Liman, W.V.—perhaps it’s an homage to Doug Liman’s “The Bourne Identity,” with some druggy nuggets of one of the director’s earliest films, “Go.” Like the amnesiac Jason Bourne, Mike is a killing machine and he never knew it, piecing together in his mind the lethal skills and high-tech information he never realized he had.