We gave it a B
Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) is pretty much a loser: a feckless small-town stoner who spends his days drawing homemade comics behind the register at a near-deserted Cash ‘n’ Carry and his nights getting high and burning omelets in his dingy bungalow. But he has a beautiful girlfriend named Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) who loves him despite his dim prospects, and even forgives him when a crippling panic attack prevents him from getting on an airplane bound for their dream vacation in Hawaii.
Then one ordinary late-shift evening, a wary-eyed woman in dark sunglasses and a trench coat (Connie Britton) walks up to the counter and repeats what sounds like military-code nonsense, firmly at first and then desperately: “Chariot progressive. Listen. Mandelbrot set is in motion. Echo Choir has been breached, we are fielding the ball.” Not long after that two nefarious-looking men show up in the parking lot outside—and Mike does something with the spoon intended for his Cup O’ Noodles dinner that he never knew he was capable of.
What did those men want from him, and where did he learn to turn soft-sided cutlery into a murder weapon? Those mysteries have to take a backseat because there are more would-be assassins waiting in the wings and more pressing issues to address over the next few hours, like not dying in a gasoline fireball or a ninja knife fight or a drone strike—and somewhere in the bloody middle of all that, finding the perfect moment to propose to Phoebe.
Not much else can be said about Ultra without ruining it a little bit, aside from the fact that there are some highly entertaining cameos (Bill Pullman, John Leguizamo, Tony Hale, Justified’s Walter Goggins), and that the storyline involves the kind of government conspiracy you usually find buried deep in Reddit subgroups. The script, penned by Max Landis (Chronicle) is slick and shallow and almost cartoonishly violent, and plot-wise it’s all basically a boondoggle.
Still, the movie is a fun mess, and Eisenberg and Stewart, who last costarred in the understated 2009 indie Adventureland, make for unlikely but endearing (anti-)heroes; they’re Bonnie and Clyde with a water bong, an extra-high body count, and some kind of moral compass (albeit a spinning one) at the center. Topher Grace, as bright-eyed as a Boy Scout, proves once again that he’s excellent at putting an aw-shucks face on sociopathy, and the whole thing wraps in just over 90 wham-bam minutes. American Ultra probably won’t win any awards that don’t come from Spike TV or Soldier of Fortune, but it’s August, not Oscar season; check your brain at the popcorn-butter pump in the lobby and enjoy it. B