Though marketed as something of a stoner comedy, Nima Nourizadeh’s American Ultra may just catch you by surprise, as an adrenaline-fuelled, action thriller with more inclination for speed than weed, with more of a point than a mere blunt or a joint. Undoubtedly jovial in parts, with a playful, adventurous tone, what transpires is a picture that’s darkly absurd.

Jesse Eisenberg plays Mike Howell, who spends his days working in a local supermarket, getting stoned, and working on his graphic novel about a superhero monkey. Keeping him from insanity, is his beautiful, if somewhat beleaguered girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), fed up but sympathetic about their recent, failed trip to Hawaii – as Mike’s anxiety kicked in and, not for the first time, prevented them getting away. But that soon becomes the least of their worries, when Mike discovers he’s been specially trained by the CIA to be an unflinching, robotic killing machine – and as such, is now a target of his own makers, when Agent Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) sets up a mission to have him killed. But when fellow CIA operative Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) gets wind of this savage termination – she activates his dormant skills – and from thereon, the battle ensues.

American Ultra is ultra violent, but given it’s presented in a fantastical world, where nothing feels real, it gives off the air of a comic book movie, as we feel as though we’ve stepped in to the graphic novel Mike is working on. It makes the barbaric violence seem cartoon like, devoid of savagery given it’s inclination for surrealism. Eisenberg does a commendable job tackling an action lead too, seemingly at ease with the well-crafted, choreographed combat sequences. Stewart steals the show however, continuing to impress in such an eclectic range of roles. She’s the emotional heartbeat of this tale too, always on hand to add a sense of poignancy to a film otherwise revelling in abstract quirkiness.

The film does open with a baffling scene however, and one that enriches our experience in parts, while being of great detriment to it in others. It’s a scene from the end of the narrative, as we witness Mike, handcuffed, in an interview room – he’s bloody and bruised, and has seemingly been involved in a lot of danger over the course of the evening. It works when providing a stark comparison to the stoner we eventually go on to meet, stacking shelves at a supermarket. We can’t figure out how he could even have got near this point of physical distress, and it enhances the elusive nature of the narrative. But then when we reach the midway point and a lot of our questions have been answered, then knowing he gets out alive at the end works against the movie, detracting from any sense of risk or suspense.

American Ultra is unlike anything else, as while taking various pointers from other filmmakers, ranging from Quentin Tarantino to David Gordon Green to Robert Rodriguez, Nourizadeh manages to establish his own unique voice, while maintaining the feeling of an affectionate homage. At times it does get a little too inane however, entering, unfortunately, into the realm of the illusory and downright absurd – and not always in a good way.