Either you’ve got a thing for stoner movies or you don’t. Friday. Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie. The Big Lebowski. This is The End. Dazed and Confused. Pineapple Express. Not going to lie. We love them. American Ultra stars (Jesse Eisenberg, who stutters and mumbles with the best of them) as Mike Howell, a convenience store clerk at the local Cash ‘n’ Carry in what looks like East Armpit, West Virginia. Dude’s not up to much more than toking, chugging Cup o’ Noodles, scorching omelets, and seriously messing up things with his bewildered girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), especially when a full-blown panic attack keeps him from boarding a Hawaii-bound airplane for their dream getaway.
While pulling a late night shift at the store — Mike mops up to Wang Chung — some scary dudes turn up in the parking lot apparently to rub him out, a chaser to a visit by a trench coat and sunglasses-clad woman of mystery (Connie Britton, excellent) who mumbles to him what sounds very much like military code mumbo-jumbo. We discover that our Mike is actually a discarded CIA experiment who’s been programmed to be a killing machine able to make a full-blown weapon out of an ordinary spoon and who tends to freak out if he anyone so much as tries to get him to leave town.
The movie, directed by Nimah Nourizadeh (Project X) and written by Max Landis (Chronicle), isn’t bad when it floats along on a whiff of bong water and some funny THC-laced chatter. But by the time the Bourne-y action sequences start getting more violent and the movie piles on the big chases, fights, frantic phone calls, gasoline fireballs, and riffs involving a local drug dealer pal (John Leguizamo) and a cackling psycho (the wonderful Walton Goggins, toothless and squandered), our buzz is seriously harshed. Eisenberg and Stewart, an aimless Bonnie and Clyde in a love story that goes nowhere, are likable but they were better together in Adventureland. As for all the stoner jokes, they were done better in other movies. But American Ultra may still turn up in future rotation as an amiable, fun, zero-pretensions living-room favorite.