At this point, found footage films are so ubiquitous that a new one seems to get released every other week. What sets the new film Project X apart is that it’s one of the first to use the format in service of a non-horror/thriller story; instead telling the comedic tale of three high school boys who throw a party that slowly spirals out of control. This is a potentially inspired concept, but Project X never makes a convincing case for its own existence. It takes a sitcom-worthy plot that you’ve seen a million times before and spreads it agonizingly thin over the course of 88 minutes, and by the time the really insane stuff starts happening you will have already checked out. Every character seems to have been borrowed from the used stereotype store, and there aren’t jokes in this movie so much as there are crude visual gags that are supposed to be inherently hilarious. This is the kind of movie where one character faces the eternal struggle of choosing between his hot best friend and the hot popular girl. Not that either choice really has all that much personality.
The party in question is thrown to celebrate the birthday of Thomas (Thomas Mann), a high school outsider who is looking for just one night of being popular. He unwisely leaves much of the planning to his brash friend Costa (Oliver Cooper), who is similar to Samm Levine’s character in Freaks & Geeks, minus all the endearing qualities. Costa advertises the party all over town, and suddenly people from all walks of life start showing up and they begin to trash Thomas’ house. Other partygoers include J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown, who is mostly asked to stand in the background and be the fat best friend), college baseball star Miles Teller (played by actor Miles Teller) and a little person hilariously named Astin Martin (Martin Klebba) who runs around punching kids in the groin. The whole ordeal is filmed by disturbing goth kid Dax (Dax Flame), and security is run by two young kids (Nick Nervies and Brady Hender), though as the night goes on they don’t do a very good job.
As much as I will complain about the story of Project X—and that’s coming, believe me—it’s obviously intended more to be pure escapism than anything. It wants people to wish that they could go to this party and cut loose (Footloose!) for a night of drinking, drugs and debauchery. Hopefully you can laugh along the way as well. Therefore, I will admit that this movie has occasional moments of genuine fun and goofiness, even if they are few and far between. The most amusing character in the film is the young Hender as the taser-happy security guard. Whenever he was onscreen I was laughing throughout, and I wished we got to spend more time following his misadventures. Instead, much of the movie simply stays at the party as we watch some thoroughly unlikable people get intoxicated and start blowing things up. Try as they might, the makers of Project X never find a way to make the fun of this party all that contagious.
One of the biggest mistakes the film makes is that it assumes we care about character arcs or any such things. If it was simply a party film all the way through, I might have gone along with it. Instead, everything gets bogged down with the obvious conflicts of Thomas vs. his parents, and Thomas vs. the two very attractive girls who both want to hook up with him. If anyone says they care about this, or if anyone says they didn’t know where it was all going, they’re lying. The two girls in question are Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton) and Alexis (Alexis Knapp). The former has allegedly been one of Thomas’ best friends for years. The latter is the popular girl that Thomas lusts after, and she spends more screen time topless than she does actually saying anything. In general, Project X is not a movie that treats women extraordinarily well. Yes, it’s a movie about teenage boys and it’s intended for the teenage boy in all of us, but good lord. The girls in this movie are either plot points or breast delivery services. None of them come even close to resembling an actual human being.
Project X is the directorial debut of Nima Nourizadeh, though you wouldn’t know it from the advertising. Nay, this is the next movie from “the director of Old School and The Hangover,” and it certainly seems to fit within Todd Phillips’ new purview of making movies about how everything can go wrong in one night of drunken debauchery. But hey, at least it was a good time! You can certainly feel Phillips’ fingerprints at several points in this movie; most notably whenever the drug dealer T-Rick (Rick Shapiro) shows up. That guy feels like he was taken right out of one of The Hangover movies and uncomfortably thrown into this script. When characters like that show up, the movie feels like it is being pulled in two different directions. Perhaps Nourizadeh wanted it to be more of a pure teenage party movie, while Phillips threw in his own little details and side characters that took everything to the next chaotic, Hangover-esque level. Let’s all remember that I don’t really know anything. That’s just my theory.
Despite the more certifiably insane touches, the plot of Project X is something you’ve seen in a million television shows and movies before. Step one: parents plan to go out of town for the weekend, and their child will be hosting a party in their absence. Step two: parents give their child an unnecessary tour of the house, pointing out the items that they are explicitly not allowed to touch. This way, we know precisely what’s getting destroyed later. Step three: the party begins and things start to go out of control. Step four is where this formulaic plot can diverge: either the kid is able to tidy up before the parents get home, or the parents discover what happened and punish their child accordingly. Mild spoiler alert, but the party in Project X does such catastrophic damage that not even FEMA would be able to clean it up by the time the parents get home. Yet the movie never makes this silliness as engrossing or surprising as it should be. It’s certainly gross and shocking enough, but it never comes close to being funny enough.
Project X opens in theaters on March 2.