Mark Reviews Movies

Project X (2012)

PROJECT X (2012)

1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Nima Nourizadeh

Cast: Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Dax Flame

MPAA Rating: R (for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, drugs, drinking, pervasive language, reckless behavior and mayhem - all involving teens)

Running Time: 1:28

Release Date: 3/2/12


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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 1, 2012

A teenage house party goes off the rails. That's it. That's all there is; there isn't any more.

Project X is a black hole of underage sex, drugs, binge drinking, skinny-dipping, and violence. You accuse me of being a prude about the content itself if you want, but my problem isn't with that list as the basis for a movie. Plenty of movies about teen and adult partying have come before this one (and certainly others will come after it) that contain the same sort of behavior (though this one might have the record for the number of items in the list of reasons provided by the MPAA for assigning its rating); some of them I probably enjoyed.

No, the problem is with that "black hole" part. If one is going to make a movie that glorifies the aforementioned activities—which Project X is clearly attempting to do with director Nima Nourizadeh's implementation of a found-footage conceit to give the movie a "you are there" feel and screenwriters Matt Drake and Michael Bacall's complete and total whitewashing of whatever consequences might arise from a party that results in what is essentially a war zone in a sleepy subdivision of Pasadena, California—it should at least give a sense that the entire affair is fun.

The movie lacks that feeling of reckless joy, instead giving itself over to an attitude of anarchistic abandon. It's a joyless ride into chaos.

The setup, rife with the angst-ridden emotions of the outsider, barely holds much promise once we meet the participants. By the way, we meet them immediately after the studio logos (preceded by a jokey apology to the residents and law enforcement of the city where it all fictionally went down). Our first glimpse is of Costa (Oliver Cooper), the sort of spoiled, sweater-vest-wearing kid that tries way too hard to be popular and then blames everyone but himself for his lack of popularity (He claims he was popular in his hometown of Queens; there's, strangely, no moment in which he drunkenly reveals that his bragging is a lie, which it clearly is). He just can't understand why he can't get any girls to have sex with him when all he does is stand back ogling them or going up to them to make lewd comments (Hint to the teenagers out there: It's because of that).

Costa's plan is to throw the wildest, most lavish birthday party ever for his wallflower friend Thomas (Thomas Mann), whose own father (Peter Mackenzie) says about his son, "He's a loser." Dad and mom (Caitlin Dulany) are heading out of town for the weekend to celebrate their wedding anniversary, which gives Costa the perfect cover to throw the party as Thomas' house.

Also involved are Thomas and Costa's mutual friend JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown), whom Costa constantly insults (Seriously, how does this guy have any friends?), and Dax (Dax Flame), the goth kid handling the camera to capture "Project X" (The movie can't decide if he's supposed to be silent or not). The gang start going around their high school to invite everyone and anyone they can find, especially girls who might actually fall for a "Topless girls only" sign next to the pool.

The point of the party is to become popular and have sex—well, to become popular enough that girls will want to have sex with them. The screenplay is unclear even on this simple point of motivation, reducing its trio of protagonists to a collective medium for spewing nonsensical dialogue and multiple insults. There's one scene of genuine bonding between the three, and even that only comes to pass because of ecstasy, which the partygoers find in a garden gnome that Costa steals from a certifiably insane drug dealer (Rick Shapiro) from whom they score some pot. Even that scene becomes a torrent of insults.

We get to know very little about these guys, and the little we do learn doesn't help to endear them to us. Costa is obnoxious, JB barely figures into things, and Thomas' character arc involves Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton), a friend he's known for 10 years and whom he maybe, kind of, sort of likes as more than a friend. The screenplay takes for granted whatever emotions she might have, especially when she catches Thomas in bed with the popular girl (Alexis Knapp); then again, this is a movie that imagines the people at the party have brought along underwater cameras just to capture shots of naked girls in the pool.

The party comes in a series of slow-motion montages of bodies dancing and swimming, kids drinking and vomiting, and Thomas' dog being tormented. It certainly doesn't look like any fun, and by the time the crazy drug dealer arrives—complete with a flame-thrower—to seek revenge for his stolen goods, the movie has descended into such a shambles that we're relieved it's finally coming to an end (After three false endings, it finally does). Project X is mayhem of the dismal variety.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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