Screened Out – American Ultra

By : Stephen Miller
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Jessie Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Connie Britton, Topher Grace, Bill Paxton, Tony Hale, John Leguizamo

Reuniting the Adventureland lovers for a hyper-violent secret agent comedy might seem an iffy proposal. However, despite the lack of big surprises, fast-paced American Ultra mostly fulfills its mission. It’s just a small, end-of-summer popcorn flick. August releases are always like this – breezy but not good enough to go against the season’s heavy hitters.

What saves this unsurprising cozenage from sinking into a complete morass are just enough cleverness and blood-filled action. This should mildly please an audience looking to waste a couple hours, laughing at the carnage as they ignore tangents, minor plot holes, and clichés.

Jessie Eisenberg as an unwittingly programmed assassin? Skinny, squeaky Eisenberg? Sure, why not? Maybe he’s perfect because he’s the very last person anyone would suspect. It’s like Jason Bourne for the stoner set!

Unfortunately, the very talented John Leguizamo is stuck in yet another tangental, oddball role.

Unfortunately, the very talented John Leguizamo is stuck in yet another tangental, oddball role.

Now that we know that the US government uses the same tactics as terrorists, it should come as no shock that the CIA. has programmed secret sleeper cells of super-agents hiding in places like rural West Virginia. If these would-be killers are like sad-sack Eisenberg, they all draw comics, slave at dead-end jobs, and get high every chance they get.

Eisenberg is sweet enough to somehow attract Stewart as a girlfriend, despite his many quirks and phobias. These eccentricities come to make sense after CIA agent Britton whispers some words to Eisenberg, transforming him into a slaughtering machine. Good thing Eisenberg is ready to rumble, because evil Grace and the rest of the CIA – including other programmed assassins – are out to eviscerate Eisenberg.

Give the good guy a fighting chance, right?

Max Landis is a writer with a solid sense of how to simply present off-kilter material.

Max Landis is a writer with a solid sense of how to simply present off-kilter material.

Sure, some major tangents in the film – like Leguizamo’s turn as an oddball drug dealer with an empty dance club in his basement (???) – don’t bring any extra laughs. Plot twists that should be unanticipated aren’t really all that stunning. Everything has an air of sloppiness – entertaining disorganization, but messiness nonetheless. Clichés pop up left and right; why do only two assassins at a time attack Eisenberg?

Still, the comedy plays well, and we learn handy things like how to kill three different people with a spoon, ramen noodles, and a dustpan.

Yes, we have a few actors better known for television – Nashville’s Britton and Arrested Development’s Hale. However, in this film, that doesn’t seem to signal substandard material like it normally does.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

Probably the best asset in this 93-minute flick is writer Max Landis, who also penned the small-time superhero flick Chronicle.

As a stoner assassin couple, Eisenberg and Stewart are actually charming. Sure they leave a pile of bodies in their wake, but they can’t help it. They were programmed for murder – idiosyncratic, weed-tinged mayhem.

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