Project Power, 2020.
Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman.
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jamie Foxx, Dominique Fishback, Rodrigo Santoro, Amy Landecker, Courtney B. Vance, Tait Fletcher, Yoshi Sudarso, Allen Maldonado, Jim Klock, Casey Neistat, Azhar Khan, Joseph Poliquin, Andrene Ward-Hammond, Kyanna Simone Simpson, C.J. LeBlanc, Mike Seal, and Machine Gun Kelly.
An ex-soldier, a teen and a cop collide in New Orleans as they hunt for the source behind a dangerous new pill that grants users temporary superpowers.
Superpowers sold as a drug is certainly a tantalizing hook for Project Power; really anything that does something different with the superhero formula at this point deserves a small amount of kudos. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (they have already also proven themselves capable of putting modern twists on familiar ideas such as in Nerve, a passable effort) even have the good sense to show interest in how such a hot commodity would further affect the impoverished and typically minority communities that usually face the brunt of the damage from narcotics.
Bringing things back to the former soldier seeking vengeance and New Orleans police detective looking to eliminate the drug played by Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt respectively, they aren’t actually the protagonists of Project Power although they are the biggest names attached and the driving focus of their sequences (the film switches back and forth between the two, as both enact their own missions.) Whether Project Power is focusing on Art (Foxx) or Frank (Gordon-Levitt), circumstances usually have them saddled with teenage Robin (Dominique Fishback), a struggling student with freestyle rap ambitions that also happens to be pushing the new drug in order to raise funds for various medical treatments and surgeries that her diabetes diagnosed mother requires but can’t afford, and it’s her that emerges as both the most interesting protagonist and a representative of who is most affected by the usual tropes; drug addiction, lab experiments, crooked cops, corporate greed.
It’s just that the general plot and script from Mattson Tomlin (he’s also doing screenwriting on 2021’s The Batman) is generic and never amounts to anything more than those very clichés. Aside from being the standard good cop unknowingly working within corruption, Frank’s entire characterization seems to be that he’s a New Orleans Saints fan, sporting a jersey for over half of the movie. One of the only times he’s not seen wearing the paraphernalia is during a cringe comedy segment that sees him posing to be the significant other of Robin’s mother, fending off government hecklers by threatening to document on social media their suspicions of a middle-aged white man being romantically involved with an older black woman. It’s a boneheaded attempt at encouraging progressive beliefs that just comes across as dumb as everything else in the movie.
One would think that the superpowers would be more organically implemented, but the randomness of the ability that is assigned to each individual is really just a repetitive means to convolute plot development. Most of them also aren’t that creative, boiling down to things like bulletproof skin or CGI abominations involving beastlike mutation or flaming bodies, all of which only last for five minutes forcing users to scrounge up more pills for more power. Towards the end, one enemy sprouts blades from his limbs which is easily the coolest looking of these enhancements, especially considering it’s one of the only ones not utilizing badly rendered special-effects.
Nevertheless, Biggie (Rodrigo Santoro) is looking to expand the operation and get rich off of the drug following a scientific breakthrough that allows for greater flexibility with the product. Naturally, Art and Frank are at odds completely misunderstanding the motives of one another, but as Robin ends up spending time with each of them everyone gradually gets on the same page for more bland action and a flat predictable conclusion.
It’s actually quite fascinating how at first glance Jamie Fox and Joseph Gordon-Levitt make Project Power seem like something immediately worth checking out, only to find out their characters and screen time is arguably the greatest hindrance to the movie. There are better movies inside either exploring these superpowers with more originality or Robin’s predicament pushing the drug in order to save her mother. The action is nowhere near exciting enough to justify going the mindless route. For some, taking one of these pills doesn’t grant them superpowers at all, causing them to blow up instead, which would be a better fate than sitting through this stale action flick to the end.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com