‘Project X’ goes off the rails, but amazingly so
BY RICHARD ROEPER SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST February 29, 2012 8:26PM
Three pals (from left, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Oliver Cooper and Thomas Mann) party down in “Project X.”
‘Project X’ ★★★
Thomas Thomas Mann
Costa Oliver Cooper
JB Jonathan Daniel Brown
Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Nima Nourizadeh. Written by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall. Running time: 88 minutes. Rated R (for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, drugs, drinking, pervasive language, reckless behavior and mayhem, all involving teens). Opening Friday at local theaters.
Updated: April 3, 2012 8:07AM
Around the third time we get a montage of drunken teenagers dancing, puking, gyrating and engaging in mutual debauchery in “Project X,” phrases such as “zero stars” and “epic fail” and “I hate this movie” cropped up in my thought process.
Yet I’m recommending it. Maybe it wore me down. Or maybe I just can’t deny how much I appreciated the absolutely insane turn this film makes in its final half-hour, as if acknowledging the stupidity of what we’ve seen before while also lampooning the ludicrous conventions of the typical “One Crazy Night” high school party movie.
“Project X” plays like “Risky Business” meets “Paranormal Activity,” using the conceit of the increasingly tiresome “found footage” technique to chronicle the roughly 24-hour period that begins with three teen-movie archetypes that look like the younger siblings of the “Superbad” cast plotting a birthday party, a party that ends with — well, let’s just say there’s a lot more for the party hosts to deal with than missing furniture and a cracked egg on the mantle.
Thomas Mann is the likable every-kid Thomas; Jonathan Daniel Brown is JB, the obligatory overweight kid with glasses, and Oliver Cooper is the sweater-vest wearing, gangsta-talking, party-planning Costa. In the annals of high school movies about obnoxious best friends who are obsessed with chasing girls and getting messed up, Costa is one of the most unlikable of all time. There’s nothing redeeming about this kid. Even when things spin out of control, and there’s that moment where the jerk of a friend shows he’s actually a good guy, Costa remains a borderline sociopath in need of serious psychiatric help and possibly a lengthy prison term.
Even with all the jiggly-cam home video footage and the cutting-edge soundtrack, “Project X” for a while plays like a typical low-budget teen movie, filled with obligatory characters such as the freshmen trying to sneak into the party; the guy who’s way too old to still be partying with teenagers; the gorgeous girl “buddy” who’s perfect for Thomas if he’d only wake up; the untouchable senior goddess who might not be so untouchable after all, and the out-of-town parents who keep calling to make sure everything’s all right.
Topless girls frolic in the pool. Buses filled with partygoers pull up. Drunken idiots start breaking things. A neighbor comes over and threatens to call the cops. Costa keeps behaving like the unfunny jerk he is, JB gets his groove on, and Thomas alternates between trying to corral the party and reveling in the momentary adoration that comes from allowing hundreds of strangers do drop Ecstasy and trash your home.
Then things really spiral out of control, in a manner more befitting a zombie movie than a hard-R teen romp. No doubt some reviewers — and moviegoers who haven’t absorbed all the viral hype and don’t know what they’re in for — will be either stunned or driven to ritual eye-rolling at the levels of excess and the cartoonishly over-the-top madness. If you tell me you hate this movie, I wouldn’t even try to talk you out of that reaction. There were times when I hated it, too.
But having experienced far too many teenager coming-of-age films in which there are almost no consequences the night after somebody throws a party that spirals out of control, there’s something refreshingly twisted about a movie in which the destruction is epic, and the consequences are harsh, at least for some. Director Nima Nourizadeh and writers Matt Drake and Michael Bacall have taken the John Hughes blueprint, soaked it with “Battle: Los Angeles” kerosene and lit a match. It’s stupid and horrible, and then, weirdly, almost great.