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Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Ultra Puppy Love

American Ultra (2015) on IMDb

Plot Overview

After the caption Circle of Confusion, the movie opens on a nervous, long­haired male suspect in a police inter­ro­gation room being shown some pictures that remind one of the evidence in Arlo Guthrie's ballad “Alice's Restaurant” relating to a hippie peacenik type's big crime of … littering. There's a picture of a soup spoon and of a spilled bowl of soup, not to mention one of a cast iron skillet. Shaggy-haired Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) has some explaining to do. He starts three days ago when a panic attack prevented him from leaving on a plane for Hawaii with his girl­friend Phoebe Larson (Kristen Stewart). “We were the perfect f____d-up couple,” he says. “She was perfect, I was f____d-up.”

They drive home from the airport. Welcome to Liman, a sign declares. There's no population listed for this W.Va. hamlet, and there might as well be no-one living there for the lack of any traffic we see on the road. The blue lights of the fuzz show up in the rear­view. “Are you holding?” Phoebe asks Mike. “Yeah,” he replies. It's Sheriff Watts (Stuart Greer) more interested in checking on their welfare than giving them a hard time. At home Mike puts on a record of Hawaiian music, then he burns an omelette when he tries to cook. Phoebe has the patience of a saint, having missed their Hawaii vacation but not saying a word of disap­point­ment. I'd think she must have been bored to tears working as a receptionist for a bail bond service that never gets any calls. Mike him­self is a lone clerk at the local CASH-N-CARRY. There's a dearth of customers at that place, too, and restocking is a breeze. Mike him­self is supplied out­side by his drug dealing friend Rose (John Leguizamo) who doesn't seem to have any other business besides his. For that matter there's no patrons for the adjacent girlie show joint either, and neither are there any guests (until Mike) at the local jail. A single event disrupts this still pond when a woman enters Mike's store and spouts some gibberish (“We are fielding the ball”) before leaving with­out purchasing the soup she picked out.

The camera leaves this Potemkin Village to develop a plot line over at CIA HQ, in Langley, Va. Agent Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) gets a “courtesy call” informing her they are closing down one of her languishing operations, and telling her, “Do not inter­fere.” Her rival at the Agency, Adrian Yates (Topher Grace)—who got promoted ahead of her—confirms, “We're clearing the port­folio,” spy speak for killing assets. The asset in question is “government property” who “keeps trying to leave town.” Risking a charge of treason Victoria travels to that asset's location to pass on the cryptic phrase that will activate their Ultra secret agent according to a prior hypnotic suggestion. Once they learn “He's been f___ing activated,” though, they send in successive waves of troops to neutralize him. Surviving the first wave he decides to get stoned and go to bed, but then he receives a phone call saying they're holding his girl­friend. That really ignites the fire­works (“The puppy just shit all over every­thing.”)


Mike is the remnant of Victoria's Ultra program that was cancelled when all the subjects (except Mike) either went crazy or died. Penelope was Mike's handler whose job was to settle him into the little town and then leave. Instead, she stayed on and became his girl­friend of five years, earning the sobriquet around the agency of, “Miss Stock­holm Syndrome, 2010.” When Mike finds this out on account of her inexplic­able familiarity with CIA tactics (“How do you know what that gas was?”), he becomes flum­moxed at a seeming betrayal. Not quite knowing how to express his misgivings, he uses an analogy of the after­math they observed of a traffic accident, a sports car having collided with a tree. The tree had just stood there, after growing up from a sapling, and the car ran into it. Perhaps it's just a case of her developing love standing strong when all this stuff happened around them.

In our vernacular we'd say that, “I'm the tree. You're the car. I love you.” Means she's a stand-up guy, or in this case girl. A biblical expression can be found in, (Gal. 2:11-14)

But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?

Peter had been cozying up to the Gentiles, but then he put some distance from them when fellow Jews showed up with James. Other Jews like­wise dissembled with him, and Barnabas was carried away with this dissimulation. Fowler delineates, “dissemble, dissimulate. There is no clear line of distinction between the two. Dissemble is the word in ordinary use, & the other might have perished as a Need­less Variant, but has perhaps been kept in being because it is, unlike dissemble, provided with a noun (dissimulation), & a contrasted verb (simulate), & is more convenient for use in connexion with these” (117). The noun form shows up in the verse, (Rom. 12:9) “Let love be without dissimulation,” as I discussed in my review of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E..” We can go from the upright tree to Peter and his fellow Jews who “walked not uprightly,” in that they “dissembled”, to the practice of love that should be “with­out dissimulation,” to express it biblically.

Mike could wonder if Phoebe was dissembling in her professed love for him. Indeed, in Mike's graphic novel about “Apollo Ape” the dog dissembled professing loyalty to Apollo when in the end it was “man's best friend, not simian's best friend.” For that matter the news coverage of the siege of Liman was a dissimulation claiming it was quarantined on account of monkey virus. This vocabulary is very useful.

Mike's stoner vocabulary was not the most competent, but he owned a record player and may have been familiar with Brad Paisley's song, “Online”,

I'm so much cooler online.
Yeah, I'm cooler online.

When you got my kinda stats, it's hard to get a date,
Let alone a real girlfriend,
But I grow another foot,
And I lose a bunch of weight every time I log in.

Here a man dissembles about his height and weight, and he has online relations galore, but not a “real girlfriend.” Mike uses similar terminology when he asks Penelope if she is a “real girl­friend.” The ESV uses similar wording, “Let love be genuine,” but it couldn't be applied as generally, because the “Apollo” graphic novel is itself not real, it's a cartoon. For that matter Romans 12:9, (NIV) “Love must be sincere,” would not really address the Stock­holm Syndrome, because they're always sincere. One could, however, apply it to Victoria as a mother figure. My preacher says concerning this verse, the Greek puts it, “without hypocrisy,” but we wouldn't say Stock­holm Syndrome sufferers are hypocrites either. We would, how­ever, say the CIA big boss was a hypocrite who'd reward the successful illegal operation, but heads would roll it didn't succeed. The Living Bible says “Don't pretend” but that would be more applicable to Mike's dope supplier making him an honorary “negra.” J.B. Phillips will accept “no imitation,” closer to Fowler's “contrasted verb (simulate).” However, Mike's Hawaiian music record imitates a Hawaiian experience and is not a bad thing, unlike dissimulation that is, i.e.. dis + simulation.

Other than the KJV these other modern Bibles substitute words that are some­what hit or miss when applied to various circum­stances. Perrin in his Guide to English advises, “Cultivating a habit of observing and using words in discussion is the best back­ground for making the choice of exact words easy” (193). I would think that would apply as well to Paul, adapted to now having a canon, who said, (1Cor. 14:29-31) “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.” I seem to make myself unpopular, though, when in a group Bible study, I want to stop and discuss every major word from a variety of versions when every­body else wants to move on with the study, what I'd be happy to do, too, if we'd just stuck with the KJV. But it's fallen into disfavor on account of our language has progressed.

This movie takes a stab at that problem by representing, (Eccl. 4:13-14) “Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished. For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor.” In “American Ultra” Yates the CIA haughty, naughty boss is entrenched in his position and will not accept criticism. Mike pencils his cartoons full of wisdom, but his travel options are rather poor. Yet poverty is just what can happen to such a native son during the course of things, just as good native English words early used in the KJV Bible have fallen into disuse. Mike's counter­part in the hit team Laugher (Walton Goggins) like Mike was enlisted in lieu of doing time for three misdemeanors, and he's pretty much lost it. Like­wise, these later developed English words dominating in the modern versions have serious baggage associated with them. We're better off sticking with the KJV.

In this movie there's a multitude of settings each with its own particular lingo, from the CIA (“You're all code 3 right now”), to the Liman Police, to the bail bondsmen, to the drug dealers, even to the CASH-N-CARRY, not to mention the airport terminal. Why must our sacred Bible dialect be deprived of its distinc­tive­ness? As George P. Marsh put it in an 1859 graduate lecture on the English Bible, (448–9)

the English Bible sustains, and always has sustained to the general English tongue, the position of a treatise upon a special know­ledge requiring, like any branch of science, a special nomen­clature and phrase­ology. The language of the law, for example, in both vocabu­lary and structure, differs widely from that of unpro­fes­sional life; the language of medicine, of meta­physics, of astronomy, of chemistry, of mechanical art, all these have their approp­riate idioms, very diverse from the speech which is the common heri­tage of all. Why, then, should theology, the highest of know­ledges, alone be required to file her tongue to the vulgar utterance, when every other human interest has its own approp­riate expression, which no man thinks of conforming to a standard that, because it is too common, can hardly be other than unclean?

Production Values

This film “” was based on an actual CIA program back in the 1950s, which was quite illegal. The movie comes across as if, say, Jason Bourne were a stoner. It was directed by Nima Nourizadeh and written by Max Landis. It stars Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, John Leguizamo, and Bill Pullman. Both Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg gave stellar performances, projectiing honest, realistic and likable characters with an undeniable chemistry together. Jesse Eisenberg perfectly nailed the role of stoner. Kristen's screen presence—those endless close-ups of the strikingly gorgeous actress—didn't hurt, either, complemented by her intense yet vulnerable acting persona. Note­worthy were performances given by John Leguizamo and Bill Pullman, and by supporting cast members Walton Goggins, Topher Grace and Connie Britton. Connie Britton fit her agent role well, and John Leguizamo as a zany drug dealer was awesome.

MPAA rated this picture R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, drug use and some sexual content. The fight choreography is decent, similar to the film­making style of the ‘Kick-Ass’ films, but the shaky cameras during fight scenes could have been toned down. Although off­set­ting the laid-back stoner pace to good effect, the fight sequences were almost too realis­tic­ally choreographed. We had some incredibly brutal scenes of violence constituting an assault on the senses, with punches and thuds landing with sickening intensity. The brutality verged on the artless. It seemed to over­whelm what humor could be found.

The scene at the conclusion of the Lone Ranger style (“yi ge ren lai le”) Manila mission, is shown in a fantastic animated form during the end credits. It's Mike's graphic novel ‘Apollo Ape’ come to life.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

This film takes a stoner lifestyle, a dysfunctional couple, some offbeat humor and raw gut-wrenching action and seam­lessly meshes them together into one picture. Especially challenging it was to convince the audience that Phoebe, played by Kristen, had genuine empathy for her loser, stoner, CIA reject boy­friend Mike played by Jesse Eisenberg. It could have failed, but I think they pulled it off. They over­played the violence and under­played the sex, but who can keep track? I loved it and think it offered more than the trailer suggests. Go see it with my recommendation. (The DVD is est. available, November, 2015.)

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Edge of your seat action-packed. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Well done special effects. Video Occasion: Good Date Movie. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Unless otherwise indicated scripture is quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software, print.

  Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. Print.

Fowler, H.W., A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. USA. Oxford UP. 1946. Print.

Marsh, George P. “Formation of our English sacred dialect.”
       Lectures on the English Language. London: John Murray, 1863. Print.
       ——available to read or download at www.bibles.n7nz.org.

Paisley, Brad. With writers: John Lovelace & Charles du Bois. “Online.” Copyright © New Sea Gayle Music, Emi April Music Inc.

Perrin, Porter G. Writer's Guide and Index to English. Chicago: Scott, Foresman & Co., 1939. Print.