By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
The father of a 17-year-old, about to leave for the weekend, is asked how many friends his son can have over while he’s gone.
“Four or five, tops.”
Four or five hundred, it turns out, doesn’t come close to the number of partygoers who will turn up for the mother of all teen parties.
And that party comprises Project X, an oddly-titled, R-rated, docu-style comedy in the technical vein of The Blair Witch Project and its found-footage brethren and inspired — if that’s the word — by the far superior Superbad.
It’s bad, all right, but not superbad.
When the parents of North Pasadena High School senior Thomas (Thomas Mann) go away on an anniversary trip on his birthday weekend, he and his two buddies, sarcastic motormouth Costa (Oliver Cooper) and weight-battling JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown) decide to throw a massive party in Thomas’ home, ostensibly to celebrate his birthday but in actuality as a way to make their mark.
And their friend Dax (Dax Flame), resident videographer, will record everything that happens for posterity.
Why a blowout party? Because they see it as a game changer, an event that could break the shackles of anonymity, and allow them to rise above their status as wallflowers and stand out a bit from the crowd. To say nothing of impressing those fetching, elusive, and seemingly out-of-reach coeds.
Which is why the party hosts make sure to record and document everything that happens on video.
And they get the word out in this social-media era the way no word has ever gotten out before. That this many people plan to fit into a house this size seems an impossibility.
But they manage.
And, of course, everything that can go wrong at a drink-drugs-and-dance party for which the security detail consists of two severely deluded middle schoolers… does. And then some.
Some parties get out of hand; this one gets out of arm. But not harm, as indicated by the car in the pool, the flamethrowing, the spray-painted dog, the extensive nudity, and the news helicopters hovering overhead.
The debuting director, Nima Nourizadeh, whose background is in commercials and music videos, takes the found-footage approach, employing handheld-camera cinematography and shaky-cam chaos to try to convey the level of anarchy.
The producer is Todd Phillips, who is perhaps best known for the wildly overated comedy The Hangover (which is mentioned prominently in Project X’s marketing), so it’s no surprise to find that the nothing-exceeds-like-excess approach is the endgame here and the progression towards chaos is all that the movie’s about.
The boys-and-girls-behaving-badly script by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall — based on a story by Bacall that’s based on an actual incident in Australia that has been transplanted to California — would seem to be about the high school social system and the angst at that stage of life in trying to emerge from the shadows of teenhood. But just as you don’t need a reason to throw a party, the party being thrown is this movie’s reason to exist.
There are a number of scattered laughs to be had — especially if you favor hearty partying as a spectator sport — but the script does not engage us by developing the characters enough for us to care about them, the way that a found-footage teen triumph like, say, the recent Chronicle did.
Project X lacks the ambition of Chronicle and its impressive and thoughtful technical execution. But those looking for nothing more or less than a pure celebration of youthful, gleeful irresponsibility will find themselves at the right party.
As for the rest of us, we’ll host 2 stars out of 4 for Project X, a high-energy romp that’s spotty because the life of the party isn’t any of the characters, but the party itself.