FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

American Ultra
3 out of 5

Defenders of much-maligned director Josh Trank (Fantastic Four) point to Chronicle as his vindication, but the truth is the found-footage romp was just as much the product of scriptwriter Max Landis as it was of the filmmaker.

Unlike Trank, Landis doesn’t stink the joint out with his second effort, American Ultra. Sure, there’s barely a single original idea in the film (it’s a mix of the Bourne series and Seth Rogen-style stoner comedies) but the dialogue is crackling and the pairing of Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart elevates the material, much as they did six years ago with Adventureland.

Eisenberg and Stewart are Mike and Phoebe, a couple of slackers in Smalltown, USA. They lack prospects and Mike seems physically unable to leave the place but they love each other so it’s all good.

Unbeknownst to both, a CIA flunky has ordered a hit on Mike. Turns out he’s actually a dormant assassin from a failed program (sound familiar?) and now the agency is tying up loose ends. Luckily for Mike, his supervisor (Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights) is willing to go to war for him, and he might just be less of a failure than everyone thinks.

A massive improvement for director Nima Nourizadeh over the moronic Project X, American Ultra is stylish to a fault, which is half the fun. The other half comes from Eisenberg and Stewart.

It’s impossible to become truly invested in their fate when the plot against them is so harebrained (although watching Topher Grace as a baddie who’s in way over his head is rather amusing). American Ultra could have been balls-to-the-wall crazy, but it seems the creative team’s heart wasn’t quite in it. The result is fun, but predictably lukewarm.