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Jesse Eisenberg, left, plays a slacker going nowhere and Kristen Stewart is his capable girlfriend in American Ultra.

This is not a spoiler alert; it's a tip: If you go to see American Ultra, stay for the credits, right to the end. They are animated and provide a mini fourth act for the film, a little action movie starring a super simian and a beautiful (human) damsel; they are an amusing addendum, but mainly they tell you a lot about where American Ultra's heart lies, deep in comic-book territory.

There are lots of movies out there that attempt to create three-dimensional, live-action versions of comic-book heroes; fewer that want to bring the subversive sensibility of comics to the big screen. It's a characteristic that will make you want to like this spy spoof dreamed up by Max Landis, a young screenwriter with a thing for Superman, even if its satire has exhausted itself long before those clever credits roll.

Jesse Eisenberg plays Mike Howell, a slacker who works in an all-night food mart in small-town U.S.A., and who has absolutely nothing going for him except perhaps his ability to draw comics and, most definitely, his capable girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart).

Meanwhile, in Langley, a dim yet diabolical CIA supervisor (Topher Grace) has gone rogue, deciding that a bunch of inconvenient sleeper agents must be eliminated. Agent Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton), the smart cookie who created the super sleepers in the first place, knows she has to stop him.

The funniest scene in the film is the one where Lasseter arrives in the food mart to buy a cup of instant noodles and warn the uncomprehending Howell that he has been activated. Apparently, the dude does not know his own strength, because when a couple of trained CIA killers show up to take him down, he eliminates them with a spoon before escaping with Phoebe to his drug dealer's house. (There's a scene-stealing performance here from character actor John Leguizamo as the colourful drug dealer; sadly, he's eliminated early in the action.)

The juxtaposition of the peaceable stoner and the world of murderous espionage is a strong premise. Eisenberg's bemused countenance and lovable languor are, of course, absolutely central to the joke, and  he's well matched by that nice recalcitrant edge that Stewart can bring to a performance when she is not being asked to make love to vampires.

But that juxtaposition is just one joke. To expand it, Landis launches into a satire of the military's overkill culture, with Grace working overtime as the paranoid, power-mad, panic-button-pushing CIA megalomaniac who rapidly turns his covert operation into a three-ring circus. Some points are scored at the expense of military and civilian authority, but mainly director Nima Nourizadeh has to somehow craft a compelling movie out of much-repeated action scenes in which Howell keeps proving himself hilariously adept at defeating the CIA's superior firepower. Everybody loves an underdog, but at a certain point, the overkill becomes just that.