Film review: American Ultra

It’s a smart idea basing a film against a counter-culture sleeper assassin, but American Ultra is too implausible to pull it off, says Michael Joyce.

For around 20 minutes American Ultra ambles along as an amiable tale of Mike and Phoebe (Eisenberg and Stewart), a stoner couple, working dead end jobs in a small nowhere town. All of which comes to an abrupt stop when Mike kills two people in a car park with his bare hands. He is about to discover that he is actually a CIA-trained sleeper assassin, part of a canned programme that experimented on misfit members of society to try and turn them into assets. It didn’t work out and now the order has been taken to liquidate the participants, which means the movie of Mike and Phoebe’s life together has to endure a dramatic down market genre shift.

The premise is based on the Project MK Ultra, in which the CIA experimented with and brain washed various subjects during the ‘50s and ‘60s. The idea of updating it with a counter-culture figure suddenly discovering he is imbued with these somewhat reactionary abilities is a great starting point for a smart little film. Unfortunately they have made it into an overblown dumb one.

Surely any operation to terminate a clandestine operation would need to be covert and subtle. The CIA assault here is about as covert and subtle as Arnie in the first Terminator film. The CIA are not known for their restraint, but massacring a whole police station just to get to one man who doesn’t represent an immediate threat? There are a few nice performances and funny lines in American Ultra, but the film is crazy violent and there’s a shrill hysteria to it that undermines whatever point it is trying to make.

Rating: 2/5 stars