23 March 2012
2012, 88mins, 18
Director: Nima Nourizadeh
Writer (s): Matt Drake, Michael Bacall
Cast includes: Thomas Mann, Miles Teller, Dax Flame, Oliver Cooper
UK Release Date: 2nd March 2012
The marketing materials for “Project X” have made it abundantly clear that the picture is a creation from the Todd Phillips wheelhouse, the name behind sizeable and deserved smashes such as “Old School” and “The Hangover”, along with duds like 2006’s disastrous retooling of “School for Scoundrels”. Whilst the erratic filmmaker doesn’t officially take directorial control of “Project X” (that honour falls to newcomer Nima Nourizadeh), his fingerprints are all over the venture, everything from the ramped up visual mania, lowbrow crudity and lashings of chauvinism suggesting Phillips may have supplied more creative input than the credits suggest. The picture deserves brownie points for finding a new way of deploying the found footage gimmick (it beats the now conventional spook story template extolled by the success of “Paranormal Activity”) and also offers a bundle of halfway decent laughs. However too much of “Project X” requires you to be onside with its primal teenage heroes, one of whom is possibly the most repugnant teen to grace cinema screens ever. Readers should be aware that I recently watched “We Need to Talk About Kevin”.
Thomas (Thomas Mann) is about to turn 17 and to celebrate his parents are leaving him to his own devices for the weekend. Left with $40 for pizza and a plethora of severe warnings, Thomas and his bullish buddy Costa (Oliver Cooper, getting far too into his douchebag role) decide to throw a party, recruiting chubby JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown) and weirdo Dax (Dax Flame) to help them document the madness on camera. Thomas is initially reluctant to have a big bash, but Costa eventually breaks him down, the party descending into an orgy of alcohol, casual sex, vandalism and canine abuse. It provides the loser hosts with a fleeting sense of glory, however when things spiral out of hand thanks to irritated neighbours, inadequate security measures and a pissed off drug dealer events take a turn for the worst.
“Project X” is technically solid, Nourizadeh making surprisingly good use of the found footage aesthetic. The camera is kinetic without being overzealous, helping to sell the fanatical party mood the movie so obviously hinges on. In this day and age cameras have become a constant in the arena of nightlife; parties and nightclubs possibly some of the most keenly observed urban environments around. It’s refreshing to see some creative types make good on this fact, Nourizadeh revelling in the anarchy which such drunken get-togethers concoct. Of course “Project X” has a frustrating habit of picking the leeriest and creepiest shots it can, the ratio of male to female nudity being predictably one-sided. The film’s stance on the fairer sex is positively retarded, offering viewers a rash of scantily clad bitches and sluts, clawing at the end for some sort of gender equality through the limp addition of a steelier love interest for Thomas. It’s a problematic facet of the production but one that comes as no surprise, even the genuinely good works associated with Phillips (I’m thinking “The Hangover”) have suffered from this medieval and vaguely diseased perspective.
The screenplay is stuffed with ideas, throwing out enough humour so that something has to eventually stick. Granted more gags miss than hit, but the ferocity with which “Project X” tosses out jokes keeps the laugh rate competent. There’s not much funny about midgets punching people in the crotch, but by the same token 12-year old bouncers make for a mountain of amusing material. Despite his character’s ridiculous immoral coda, Cooper does at least showcase some semblance of comedic timing, the majority of the stinging one liners gifted to him. They generally rotate around cruel topics, but at least Cooper manages to sell them with sufficient venom. That’s genuinely the only good thing I can say about an otherwise vile performance though, the actor never attempting to spike the personality with any redeeming features, meaning that his forced redemption at the end is ridiculously ineffective.
The other actors range from so-so to wet-blankets, Thomas Mann struggling to convert the lead into anything other than a one dimensional bumbling nerd. No amount of visual energy and MTV style photography can mask the lack of characterization in “Project X”, the protagonists likely to leave viewers cold for a variety of reasons. The soundtrack whilst jammed with modern hits, feels suitable within the confines of the picture, the inclusion of fun tracks by the likes of D-12 and Kid Cudi adding to the whirlwind atmosphere. “Project X” also deserves props for supplying an obvious warning about organising a party through social media. We’ve all been there, but the film showcases the potentially horrible consequences rather wonderfully.
The final act is berserk, flamethrowers, police intervention and lawyers all entering into the fracas. Unfortunately the filmmakers decide to slather on a copout ending with a hollow final message, relaying to the youth of today that destroying your parents’ belongings, treating the girl of your dreams like shit and forgoing your future are all acceptable manoeuvres in the hunt for substance addled highs. It’s a sour note to end a sporadically entertaining picture on. “Project X” is a curious work but one I would advise all interested parties approach with caution.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012