Project X: Grand Fun… Until It’s Not!

Project X

Project X is Superbad without a conscience – or Animal House with Jim Belushi instead of John. It’s a movie about a party that – ‘gets out of hand’ seems so inadequate – goes nuclear. It’s about high school guys who want to lose their virginity and the birthday party they hope will help them do just that.

Thomas [Thomas Mann] is turning seventeen and his friend Costa [Oliver Cooper] decides to that he needs an epic party to celebrate – and get laid. J.B. [Jonathan Daniel Brown] is more or less along for the ride. Dax [Dax Flame] is the camera jockey from the audio/video club who’s following them around to document the proceedings.

The party is at Thomas’ place – his parents will be away for the weekend – and there are the usual parental rules laid down [which we know haven’t got a hope in Hades of being followed]. The one surprising thing about the set-up is that Costa, obnoxious as he is, doesn’t make any comments about Thomas having a hot mom [which he does] – possibly because she walks in as he’s saying something rude.

The first half of Project X is setting the stage for the party. The trio shops for food; Costa stages a mass e-mailing; a random encounter with a recent grad from their high school – and star jock – provides booze and the first layer of discomfort [beyond Costa’s obnoxiousness].

Once everything is in place, there’s the quick montage of the three waiting for people to arrive – ninety minutes after the official time and no one’s there – before suddenly, half the school arrives.

Once the party gets going, though, it’s a thing of R-rated beauty: drugs, booze, sex, topless girls in the pool. Then a neighbor arrives, the police stop by and hundreds of people hide in the backyard and go deathly still – kind of like an intermission at a three hour movie. After the police leave, though, the party gets cranked up to eleven.

Thomas, the only likable member of the trio, is kind of like a taller, buffer, marginally better looking Michael Cera; Costa is the conscience-free version of a Jonah Hill character and J.B. is, essentially Flounder. All three get to have a good time before the party escalates beyond comprehension.

First, Thomas discovers that he likes his female bestie, Kirby [Kirby Bliss Blanton], more than he thought and then, in an ecstasy-based haze finds himself in bed with his dream girl, Alexis [Alexis Knapp] before Kirby walks in on them. [Since the other two don’t really matter much, we won’t even think about the mischief they get into].

There’s a point, about two-thirds of the way into Project X – probably shortly after someone gets Thomas’ dog airborne [hoisted up by dozens of helium balloons], that things start to lose their humorous nature. A stolen garden gnome and a flamethrower figure heavily into the proceedings as the film goes way off the tracks before skidding back into fun territory with strangely appropriate and witty tags detailing what happened to the principals.

Directed by Nima Nourizadeh, from a script by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall, Project X is shot as if Dax really was just following the characters around with a camera. It takes the found footage idea and moves it from the horror and superhero genres into the teen party realm. Most of the way through, it works pretty well, too. We feel like we’re really working our way through a wild party. Most of the time. The rest of the time, we’re a bit dizzy, to be completely honest.

The big problem with Project X is that most of the characters – except for Thomas and Kirby – simply aren’t sympathetic, and we’ve seen most of this movie many times before. The stuff we haven’t seen before – at least in a teen party flick – only begins with the garden gnome and the flamethrower.

In the screening I attended, once the party went off the rails and things got dark, the audience stopped laughing. It got really quiet – like everyone was waiting for someone to die horribly. I’m not quite sure that was what the filmmaker intended. It certainly brought me crashing to earth!

The final tags, which follow a sequence where it’s clear there will be consequences for our lead trio [or some of them, anyway], are clever enough to pull us out of the tailspin we slipped into, but not quite enough to save the movie.

Final Grade: C-

Photo by Beth Dubber/Courtesy Warner Brothers Entertainment