‘Pineapple Express’ without the laughs and ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ without the thrills, ‘American Ultra’ is a stoner action comedy that riffs on the familiar story of a guy who can’t remember that he’s actually a government-trained killing machine. Jesse Eisenberg stars as Mike, a rural Virginia convenience store worker with stringy hair and a weed habit. The one good thing in his otherwise meaningless existence is his endlessly patient girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), whose unconditional love for Mike is as inexplicable to him as it is to us.
By the time Mike is ‘activated’ – killing two beefy dudes with a spoon and becoming the target of a CIA manhunt – the film has already exhausted its slight charms. To a degree it gets by on the easygoing relationship between Phoebe and Mike: lived-in and loving, but bruised. Even so, Max Landis’s immature script rarely gives them interesting things to say to each other, and the movie suffers enormously when they’re separated. Mike is too thinly sketched to carry the film by himself, and the coterie of one-note supporting characters that ride to his rescue (including John Leguizamo as a crazed drug dealer) only serve to remind you of all the fun you’re not having.