By Brian Lafferty
March 13, 2011 (San Diego) – Everyone has the time of their lives in Project X, a comedy movie, party movie, found footage movie, and disaster film all rolled into one. I’m happy that they had fun because I didn’t. I felt like a teenager forced by his parents to attend a social gathering with people he doesn’t know and can’t relate to.
High school senior Thomas (Thomas Mann) is about to celebrate his 18th birthday. His best friends Costa (Oliver Cooper) and J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) decide to throw him the ultimate bash. Long story short: Costa invites literally hundreds of people, there’s drinking, drug use, sex, a riot, and the house is burned down by a furious drug dealer armed with a flamethrower.
Did I mention that, on top of all this destruction, there’s a gimmick? It’s told through an amateur documentary style; an unobtrusive, mysterious student filmmaker chooses this happening as his school film project. Other people contribute with cell phone videos and news footage.
Project X is the second “found footage” film released so far this year after The Devil Inside (or the third, if you count Chronicle; it’s considered to be a found footage film, but I’m hesitant to classify it as such). This genre is usually applied to horror or suspense films. In Chronicle, it was an unnecessary gimmick that undermined what worked in the film.
Similar feelings arise during the first ten minutes of Project X, but they dissipate. When it does, this device transforms into the only essential element of the film. It shrinks the emotional and physical distance between the audience and the characters. It possesses a rawness to it that I don’t always experience even in my most favorite comedies.
These characters, however, are those I would just as soon keep my distance from. The teenagers, Costa in particular, are the stereotypical horny, sex-obsessed, women-objectifying teen boys. All they think and talk about is sex and girls. The profanity and vulgarity is enough to cover a bathroom wall.
As an adult, Project X is not funny. There’s a lot of things I’ve learned and experienced in the almost ten years since my high school graduation that’s taught me what’s mature and immature, and that certain things are funny at sixteen but offensively juvenile at twenty-six.
Take, for instance, the sign by the pool that states all girls must disrobe before getting in. They oblige. I was so offended and pitied these girls so much I had to avert my eyes.
As offensive as it is, it accounts for only a third of the reason I didn’t find Project X funny. At some inevitable point the filmmakers get destructive. Things get way out of hand when a vengeful drug dealer torches the neighborhood with a flamethrower. Then there’s Thomas’ dad’s car, which he declares off-limits for him to drive; you don’t get a cookie for correctly guessing that some major catastrophe will befall it. It’s total, utter chaos by the end of the night.
This is admittedly something to admire. It’s the one time the rawness of the documentary style brings any meaningful benefit. It’s the one time I felt close to something worthy. It maybe wasn’t the reaction the filmmakers specifically desired, but I couldn’t help but marvel at the sheer ambition.
It does not leave any room for laughs, though.
The final third of the reason for the scarcity of laughs was because despite the grandiose scale, there’s actually little to see. For such an ultra-bawdy, no-guts-no-glory party, it’s uninspired and boring. Tediously repetitious shots of grinding, topless girls, and liquor guzzling will do that.
Watching Project X made me yearn for a favorite movie of mine, one the filmmakers could have learned from. It’s called Bachelor Party (1984). It stars Tom Hanks in one of his funniest roles as a groom-to-be whose buddies throw him the ultimate bachelor party in a New York hotel. It includes booze, hookers, and even a dead donkey. But it’s hilarious, the characters are likeable and relatable, and it is more concerned with being funny than attempting to outdo itself with each passing scene. Please see it. If you’ve already seen it, watch it again. It’s a much more fruitful use of your time (and lungs) than Project X.
Project X is currently playing in local theaters.
A Warner Bros. release. Director: Nima Nourizadeh. Screenplay: Matt Drake and Michael Bacall. Cinematography: Ken Seng. Cast: Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Dax Flame, and Kirby Bliss Blanton. 88 minutes. Rated R.