Shouldn’t this “found-footage” movie fad be over already?
I totally get that this was a charming gimmick back in the days of The Blair Witch Project, but considering the speed at which Internet memes expire, one suspects that we as a culture would already have gotten past the whole “fake reality” of following your characters with a camcorder, plus the ensuing half-assed attempt by marketers to persuade gullible audiences that any of this nonsense actually happened.
Maybe I’m just hung up on wondering why people would keep filming whenever such crazy shit is happening. Or could it be that it’s just much easier to shoot a movie on low-end equipment with available lighting, and the sorry-ass shaky camera aesthetic appeals to lazy filmmakers who don’t like to bother planning out their shots?
In any case, after a now routine campaign of “secrecy,” we finally have a glimpse at Project X , which disappointingly enough does not turn out to be a remake of that 1980’s cable staple in which Matthew Broderick and Helen Hunt rescue cute monkeys who know sign language. Instead, it’s the Cloverfield of teenage sex comedies, doubling down on the hoariest, out-of-control party cliches and passing them off as something new thanks to the faux- documentary structure and an overdose of amateur Flipcam footage.
It’s gawky Thomas Kud’s 17th birthday, and rather conveniently his parents are headed out of town, leaving him alone for the weekend in their sprawling Pasadena McMansion. Played by Thomas Mann, he’s an un-endearingly awkward young fellow who seems to be missing a few crucial personality traits. Thomas is always trailed by his pervert sidekicks, Costa (Oliver Cooper) and J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown.) The latter is too vaguely defined to make much of an impression, while the former stakes an early claim as one of this year’s most insufferable movie characters.
Wearing an argyle sweater-vest over a T-shirt, the motor-mouthed Costa spends the movie frantically spewing mountains of deathlessly labored, crass descriptions of anatomical functions, often attempting to put a spin on key cuss words by dragging out certain syllables in sing-songy tones. The instigator behind his meek friend’s party, Costa is preoccupied with the rather sad notion that throwing a crazy rager might elevate their social status to a point where these pathetic kids could actually get laid.
Does any of this sound familiar yet? We’ve got one crazy, booze-fueled, sex-seeking night spent with a mousy kid and his short blustery sidekick, along with a mystical geek rounding out the trio? Project X shamelessly rips so many pages from the script of Superbad that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have grounds for a lawsuit. (At the very least, Oliver Cooper should consider sending Jonah Hill a check, along with a heartfelt letter of apology.)
As tends to happen when parents are out of town, the guestlist for this particular bash quickly blossoms out of control. In the movie’s most baffling diversion, Rabbit Hole and Footloose co-star Miles Teller plays himself—except it’s a fictional version of himself that happens to be some sort of nationally renowned baseball prodigy complete with access to a party bus full of hot babes. (No, I don’t understand it, either.)
As hundreds upon hundreds of nubile young teens inexplicably descend upon the Kud residence, removing their clothes for the benefit of the cameras, our protagonist finds himself stuck in a depressingly tired scenario. Girl next door Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton) has been his best friend since forever, but now that she’s grown up to be wicked hot they’re both finally figuring out that they’ve actually been in love with one another the entire time. Isn’t it a shame that such self-discovery arrives on the same night the most popular mean girl in school (Alexis Knapp) can’t stop taking her top off for Thomas?
The lone joke in Project X is one of scale. The party gets so absurdly out of control we’ve soon got a nut-punching midget stuck in the oven and a drug dealer our kids ripped off shows up for revenge with a flamethrower. It’s just a lot of boobs and mayhem, devoid of wit.
Director Nima Nourizadeh sloppily orchestrates the action with an eye best described as leering, but it’s producer Todd Phillips’ personal stamp that comes through strongest. His Due Date and Hangover Part II pushed slob-comedy further and further into the actively unpleasant, and Project X stinks of a similar naughty-boy entitlement. The movie is stuck in smirky adolescent spats of rebellion and cro-magnon sexual politics.
It’s Superbad for bullies, ignoring the delicate insecurities and thoughtful character shadings that made the 2007 picture so very special—beneath the bluster. By contrast, Project X is just some boorish drunk dudes who want to use girls as receptacles. As Michael Cera said: “Here’s to respecting women!”
Director: Nima Nourizadeh
Starring: Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper and Jonathan Daniel Brown