Project X, 2012.
Directed by Nima Nourizadeh.
Starring Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Nichole Bloom and Alexis Knapp.
Three high school friends plan to gain popularity by throwing a party, only for proceedings to rapidly escalate beyond their control.
Found footage films are fast becoming a cinematic phenomenon. You’re seeing more and more of them for two reasons: the creative opportunities for filmmakers looking for new ways to tell a story and the financial benefits of the low risk / high reward model studios love. Conceptually, the new teen comedy Project X feels like reason number one. In reality it feels like a weak excuse to try and pocket some easy money.
The problem with Project X is the fact that the movie feels like two genres at war with one another. It’s the product of some rough, sloppy cinematic sex – the bastard red-headed stepchild of the teen sex comedy and a found footage film. Director Nima Nourizadeh never embraces either genre with the kind of reckless abandon that both types require, which leaves you with a harmless outing that feels like a missed opportunity. As outrageous as the marketing claims the movie to be, the films biggest failing is not being wild enough.
The story follows the misadventures of Thomas (Thomas Mann), an average teenager who exists on the unpopular outskirts of high school social circles. His friends are made up of other outcasts, desperate to climb the social ladder and even more desperate to get laid. The plot is ridiculously unoriginal. There isn’t a character or moment that hasn’t been strip mined from a hundred other movies. Thomas and his two friends Costa (Oliver Cooper) and JB (Jonathan Brown) decide to throw a party hoping to get laid. Things don’t go exactly as planned. What starts as a small get-together snowballs into a rager. Fifty people soon turn into a hundred. Then two hundred. Before they know it a thousand people are there taking over the whole block like a malignancy.
Project X has a few inspired moments, mostly due to the high energy filming style and a rapid fire pace that only pauses momentarily to show you a variety of women in a state of undress. It works as a chronicle of a night gone horribly wrong. As a story it fails in establishing any sense of character or weaving a plot that you give a damn about. They try to cram in the conventions of a teen comedy into the film but they don’t work. There’s obnoxious oversexed kid, the likable nerd, the unbelievably attractive girl next door… but none of them resonates. They’re in the movie for the sake of convenience but none of them have a personality or a likable character trait. Actually, I’ll go one further on that.
Project X may feature the most unlikeable characters in the history of the teen sex comedy. The movie plays like a recruiting film for genetic cleansing. It’s not that the cast is made up of spoiled, whiny one-note stereotypes – it’s just that they are so hideously unlikeable and unsympathetic. Costa is a racist, foul mouthed misogynist in a sweater vest, a walking perpetual boner who screams “wear something tight” to groups of women and wonders why no one is lining up to blow him. And it’s not what he’s saying that grated on my last nerve; I’m not easily offended, but there has to be a point to it. You need to give me a reason to root for the guy. You can’t have a kid walking around screaming “show me your tits” for the vast majority of the film and expect me to want him to win. I was more hopeful he’d be brutally murdered than have sex. In fact, at the end of the film when a flamethrower-wielding maniac shows up I was praying that he was going to engulf every annoying character in a fireball from which no one would emerge. Can you imagine the emotional payoff for the audience? Had that happened I might have declared Project X the most exhilarating movie ever released. Unfortunately everyone survives.
The characters are so blissfully unaware of their ignorance that it’s almost funny. Thomas is the one character with a shred of likeability, and even his story arc feels woefully awkward. Towards the end of the night the party has careened out of control. The SWAT team has arrived, his house is trashed, and his outlook is none too rosy. A news chopper flies overhead. He realizes that he’s screwed no matter what. This is that pivotal moment where he can either walk away or succumb to the madness unfurling around him. So what does he do? He flips off the news crew with two middle fingers.
And I found myself asking “who exactly is he flipping off?” The news? Society? He’s just another dumb, spoiled kid who has no idea what he’s raging against. A rebel without a clue. And it’s that absence of logic that sinks Project X. Had they taken out the more structured story elements made it a more free form exhibition of an epic party gone mental I might have been on board, but a lot of Project X is amateur hour filmmaking that never even manages to deliver on a novel premise.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film * / Movie *