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American Ultra is an offbeat action comedy with surprising heart.

Absent-minded stoner Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) discovers that he’s actually an elite CIA sleeper agent, and has been targeted for termination.

American Ultra is funny and viscerally exciting, but what stands out about it is its subtle flair with character dynamics.

Mike is a sensitive, apprehensive guy prone to panic attacks, but unleashes deadly, subconscious combat training when threatened. He gradually develops into a better, more confident person by merging the best parts of both sides of himself.

It’s also gratifying to see a male-led action film that features strong female characters. Connie Britton plays Lassetter, a feisty, no-nonsense agent who goes out of her way to guide and protect Mike. And yes, Mike’s primary motivation is to rescue his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart, who has finally shaken off the Twilight franchise), but Phoebe is an authoritative figure who can hold her own in a fight.

Mike and Phoebe have a touching relationship of mutual dependency under fire, with a decent twist about Phoebe’s identity.

Mad Max: Fury Road (starring Charlize Theron) takes the cake this year for proactive, awesome female characters, but American Ultra still delivers admirably.

American Ultra satisfies with its goofball humor and brutal, well-choreographed action, but its deep, engaging characters make it rather special.