*1/2 (out of 5)
January 30, 2015
Jonny Weston as DAVID RASKIN
Sofia Black-D’Elia as JESSIE PIERCE
Sam Lerner as QUINN GOLDBERG
Allen Evangelista as ADAM LE
Virginia Gardner as CHRISTINA RASKIN
Amy Landecker as KATHY RASKIN
Gary Weeks as BEN RASKIN
Directed by: Dean Israelite
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
My seething hatred for the found footage genre is well documented. Nay, it is legendary in the hallowed halls of the Internet. I’ve gone on record more times to explain why I think it’s a lazy, artless style than Michael Richards went on record to apologize for his N-word rant several years ago. So, I won’t bore you with rehashing old material (which, ironically, is exactly what the found footage genre seems dedicated to doing).
Suffice to say that it saddens me that after invading the horror genre with this style, it has now set its sights on the science fiction field. We saw this happen with “Chronicle” (a film I despised, though to be fair, many people did love). And while that movie was a hit, when Hollywood tried this again with the Amblin-inspired film “Earth to Echo” last year, it was a box office disaster.
Now Hollywood is trying its hand at a “Back to the Future” wannabe for the iPhone generation by masking bad writing and poorly-developed characters with shaky camera techniques and awkward improv. The result is “Project Almanac,” which reminds me a bit of “As Above/So Below” last year because it has some interesting ideas that are never fully explored because of the trappings of the found footage genre.
In “Project Almanac,” David (Jonny Weston) stumbles upon his dead genius father’s plans to design a time machine. With the help of his classmates, David constructs the machine, and the five of them start time traveling. Like narcissistic teenagers, they use this power for personal gain, thwarting bullies, passing tests, winning the lottery and getting the pretty girl in school to fall in love with David. However, they soon discover that (in a tour de force of non-explanation) these changes are having dire consequences to reality.
The most frustrating thing about “Project Almanac” is that at times it swerves near some pretty interesting paradoxes and concepts. Sure, it takes about 70 or 80 minutes into the film before anything remotely resembling a cool idea shows up, but when it does, it taunts the film just out of its grasp. Then, the movie actively pushes the cool ideas aside for nonsensical plot developments… like the inexplicable way that making eye contact with yourself in the same time stream causes you to disappear. Science!
I’m not looking for Stephen Hawking-approved scientific concepts in my popcorn movies. I fully understand that there’s a strong force of fiction in science fiction. However, this movie pretends to be smart by doing some of the dumbest things, like having the kids break into the school to steal vials of hydrogen gas from the science lab to power the fusion reactor of the machine. Never mind the fact that hydrogen is easily electrolyzed from tap water. Never mind the fact that you need heavy water and advanced scientific equipment to refine hydrogen into fusionable material. Never mind the fact that no high school on this planet keeps nuclear-grade materials in a cage secured by a MasterLock.
Sure, a lot of the science will go over people’s heads, but the movie insists that it’s smart multiple times throughout. And it’s not. It’s dumb. So dumb, in fact, that it makes the science behind “Sharknado” seem sound.
Like most other found footage movies, the film trades ideas and cohesive plot development for oddly staged moments that are supposed to feel natural. There’s a strange mixture of explaining why they’re filming everything and not explaining anything but still having one of the friends creep around with a camera at some of the other characters’ most intimate moments. Add to the fact that shooting from what amounts to an iPad or less, this movie feels like it can be contained in a shoe box, offering no scope or awe to what could be one heck of a cool film.
I didn’t hate the self-centered narcissism of the characters in this as much as I did those of “Chronicle,” and to be fair the kids in this movie at least considered going back in time to kill Hitler. (They, of course, chuck the idea when they realize they don’t speak German and won’t be able to access Google Maps in 1939.)
Still, like its own sub-genre, “Project Almanac” is more about the mundane in people’s lives and the self-important voyeuristic obsession of this generation.
Sigh… when will it end?