By Bill Wine

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — ‘American Ultra‘ is ultra-violent to the point of being ultra-annoying.

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It’s an action comedy with a youthful romance dangling from its back pocket that focuses on an ultra-paranoid slacker whose suspicions and fears, it turns out, the ones that apparently cause his panic attacks, are more than justified.

Jesse Eisenberg plays Mike Howell, a stoner who, unknown to himself, serves as a sleeper agent in a surreptitious government program who has just been targeted for extermination.

Kristen Stewart is Phoebe, Mike’s live-in girlfriend, who doesn’t know about Mike’s other identity.

Come to think of it, neither does Mike.

He’s concentrating on finding the right time to propose to Phoebe, which is why he’s carrying an engagement ring around with him.

Then the unthinkable happens. Out of the blue, a couple armed thugs attack Mike in the parking lot of the mini-mart store he manages in West Virginia, and he manages – to his own amazement – to homicidally dispose of them both.

His government handlers, bureaucrats led by Topher Grace, have decided that he’s a loose end who must be eliminated, and he discovers that not only has he been trained by the CIA, but they brainwashed him and erased some of his memory as well.

But he’s so well-trained to survive, maybe he’s impossible to exterminate.

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Naaah. So Mike and Phoebe go on the run.

Eisenberg and Stewart, reunited after 2009’s far superior ‘Adventureland‘, have a few endearing moments. But in general, the performers – including supporting players Connie Britton, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman, and Tony Hale – are wasted.

Director Nima Nourizadeh, who debuted with the subpar comedy, ‘Project X‘, and screenwriter Max Landis, who wrote the nifty thriller, ‘Chronicle‘, have collaborated on a shaky admixture in which scenes of domestic intimacy alternate with sequences of frenetic action that smack of a group of kids suddenly and excitedly being granted access to a weapons cache.

Automatic and semi-automatic weapons are fired indiscriminately, and yet the bullets somehow only hit the bad guys. Every time bone-crunching fisticuffs ensue, the level of low-key charm that the leads have conjured, evaporates.

The very occasional stray laugh does occur and brief flashes of filmmaking ability peek through, but neither happens enough to matter during the extended landslide of self-conscious gore.


(1½ stars out of 4)

(1½ stars out of 4)


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So we’ll exterminate 1-1/2 stars out of 4. ‘American Ultra‘ shoots everyone in the foot. Including itself.