American Ultra 

Lionsgate Films

Rated R for graphic violence, pervasive profanity, ethnic slurs, drug use and some sexuality

Small Town Slacker Marked For Death By Government In Manchurian Candidate Action Comedy

At first blush, Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) looks like your prototypical slacker with not much of a future. The small town stoner is very content to fritter away his life behind the counter of the local convenience store, so long as he can go home and get high with his girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), after work every day.

It’s hard to figure out why she puts up with the loser, between his lack of ambition and a crippling fear of flying that prevents them from venturing very far from landlocked Lymon, West Virginia. After all, she’s attractive and has a decent career as a bail bondsman. Nevertheless, she sticks with him, even after he has a panic attack in the airport and screws up their plans for the perfect Hawaiian getaway. Mike was as upset as Phoebe when he failed to muster up the courage to get on board, since he’d purchased a diamond ring with which to pop the question during the vacation.

But Phoebe has no idea that her beau has a hidden past as a sleeper agent trained as a deadly assassin by a U.S. government spy agency. Trouble is, Mike’s been blissfully unaware of it, too, since his brain was turned off when the Ultra program was put in proverbial mothballs.

However, the cozy couple is in for the shock of their lives soon after Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) targets Mike for death. The callous bureaucrat dispatches killers to Lymon to eliminate the remote risk of the dormant asset somehow activating and going rogue. Mike surprises himself when the hit men arrive to take him out.

He suddenly displays an array of prodigious fighting and survival skills implanted deep in his subconscious, and slays his attackers almost effortlessly. Yates nevertheless remains determined to complete the mission, gradually upping the ante as Mike manages to vanquish each escalating wave after wave of adversaries.

Thus unfolds American Ultra, an endlessly-entertaining action comedy directed by Nima Nourizadeh (Project X). This remarkably-novel adventure is reminiscent of Kick-Ass (2010) in the way it alternates effortlessly back-and-forth between lighthearted and graphic fare.

The movie also devotes considerable attention to generating a palpable chemistry between co-stars Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, thereby ensuring we care about the fate of their characters once the plot thickens. Alternately sophisticated and silly, but ever unpredictable thanks to a few cleverly-concealed twists, American Ultra is a delightful summer sleeper not to be missed.

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Running time: 96 minutes

 

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Warner Brothers Pictures

Rated PG-13 for violence, suggestive material and partial nudity

’60s TV Series Adapted As Nostalgic, Cold War Romp

 

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a popular television series which enjoyed a four-year run on NBC from 1964 to 1968. Ostensibly trading on the phenomenal success of the James Bond film franchise, the show revolved around another dashing character created by Ian Fleming, author of the 007 novels.

This big screen adaptation stars Henry Cavill in the title role as Napoleon Solo, a suave, sophisticated spy employed by U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement), a top secret, international espionage agency. While the TV Solo was a college grad and honorably-discharged Korean War veteran, this Napoleon is a convicted art thief who reluctantly agrees to work for the CIA in return for a reduced prison sentence.

The picture was directed by Madonna’s ex-hubby Guy Ritchie who is better known for over-the-top action adventures like Snatch (2000) and Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels (1998) than the relatively-tame fare he serves up here. The movie co-stars Armie Hammer as Solo’s sidekick, KGB agent Ilya Kuryakin. However, where the original Ilya was a mild-mannered sleuth, this time around he’s a hot head inclined to lose his temper at the drop of a hat.

This origins tale unfolds in East Berlin in 1963, which is where we find Solo and Kuryakin initially squaring off as adversaries. The former has been dispatched behind the Iron Curtain to recruit Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a missing nuclear scientist feared fallen into the clutches of a crime syndicate seeking to acquire the bomb. Only after Ilya fails to foil the extraction is he introduced to Napoleon as his new partner.

Soon, with Gaby in tow, they’re embroiled in a race against time to foil a plot hatched by Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki), the brains behind the Italian terrorist operation suspected of kidnapping Gaby’s father. Unfortunately, the deliberately-paced cat-and-mouse caper which ensues is too low-key to generate much in the way of edge-of-the-seat tension. In this regard, the picture pales in comparison to Kingsman, another nostalgic homage to ’60s spy flicks.

In sum, a passable, nostalgic period piece which does a far better job of recreating Cold War ambience than intrigue.

 

Good (2 stars)

In English, German, Russian and Italian with subtitles

Running time: 116 minutes

 

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening August 21, 2015

 

American Ultra (R for graphic violence, pervasive profanity, drug use and some sexuality) Action comedy about a sleeper agent masquerading as a small town stoner (Jesse Eisenberg) whose training kicks in when he suddenly finds himself targeted by assassins. Cast includes Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, John Leguizamo, Connie Britton and Bill Pullman.

 

Hitman: Agent 47 (R for profanity and graphic violence) Rupert Friend plays the title character in this crime thriller as a genetically-engineered assassin who teams up with a young woman (Hannah Ware) to take on an army of killers dispatched by a mega-corporation with a diabolical agenda. Featuring Zachary Quinto, Ciaran Hinds and Thomas Kretschmann.

 

Sinister 2 (R for profanity, graphic violence and disturbing images) Horror sequel to the 2012 sleeper revolves around an overprotective single mom (Shannyn Sossamon) who unwittingly moves with her twin sons (Robert and Dartanian Sloan) into a country home marked for death. With James Ransone, Lea Coco and Tate Ellington.

 

6 Years (Unrated) Romance drama about a couple of childhood sweethearts (Ben Rosenfield and Taissa Farmiga) whose long-term relationship is tested when he’s offered a dream job with a record company. With Joshua Leonard, Lindsay Burdge and Peter Vack.

 

After Words (Unrated) Romantic romp revolving around a lonely librarian (Marcia Gay Harden) having a midlife crisis who travels to Costa Rica where she gets her groove back with the help of a handsome young hunk (Oscar Jaenada). Support cast includes Jenna Ortega, Ron Canada and Jackie Torres.

 

Digging For Fire (R for profanity, drug use, sexual references and graphic nudity) Mumblecore movement maven Joe Swanberg directed and co-wrote this intriguing whodunit about a young couple (Jake Johnson and Rosemarie DeWitt) with a toddler (Jude Swanberg) whose marriage is shaken by the discovery of a gun and a bone buried in their backyard. Ensemble includes Anna Kendrick, Orlando Bloom, Sam Elliott and Brie Larson.

 

Guidance (Unrated) Out-of-the-closet comedy about an alcoholic guidance counselor (Pat Mills) deep in denial about his sexuality whose unhealthy coping mechanisms prove popular with students seeking his advice. Featuring Alexandria Benoit, Jen Goodhue and Tracey Hoyt. .

Grandma (R for profanity and drug use) Lily Tomlin handles the title role in this road comedy about a heartbroken lesbian who drives around town to help her cash-strapped granddaughter (Julia Garner) come up with some urgently-needed cash before sundown. With Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, John Cho, Sam Elliott and Elizabeth Pena.

 

Learning To Drive (R for profanity and sexuality) Romantic dramedy, set in Manhattan, about the unlikely friendship which blossoms between an acerbic book critic (Patricia Clarkson), just dumped by her husband (Jake Weber), and the patient cabbie (Ben Kingsley) she hires to teach her to drive. With Grace Gummer, Sarita Choudhury and Samantha Bee.

 

The Mend (Unrated) Dysfunctional family dramedy about a couple of long-estranged brothers (Josh Lucas and Stephen Plunkett) who attempt to reconcile while sharing an apartment in Harlem. With Lucy Owen, Mickey Sumner, Cory Nichols and Louisa Krause.

 

Searching For Home, Coming Back From War (Unrated) Multi-generational documentary offering an intimate look at combat veterans’ adjustment to civilian life after serving in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

She’s Funny That Way (R for profanity and sexuality) Peter Bogdanovich directed and co-wrote this screwball comedy examining the offstage antics of the cast of a Broadway production. Ensemble includes Owen Wilson, Rhys Ifans, Richard Lewis, Imogen Poots, Cybill Shepherd and Illeana Douglas.

 

Slow Learners (Unrated) Romantic comedy about the makeover of a couple of school cafeteria co-workers (Sarah Burns and Adam Pally) from awkward social zeros into popular party animals by overindulging in sex and booze all summer. With Peter Grosz, Reid Scott and Kate Flannery.

 

Some Kind Of Beautiful (R for profanity, sexuality, nudity and drug use) Romance drama, set about a playboy poetry professor (Pierce Brosnan) who impregnates the 25-year-old sister (Jessica Alba) of the woman (Salma Hayek) he’s prepared to settle down with. Cast includes Malcolm McDowell, Fred Melamed and Marlee Maitlin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*/ ?>