Tuesday, February 17, 2015

'Project Almanac' review

Found footage movies are usually terrible. The trend that started with 1999's breakout hit The Blair Witch Project started with indie filmmakers and has since grown into a way for the studios to make easy profits off of cheap films. The phenomenal box office results for the Paranormal Activity franchise only increased the demand for these flicks and studios like Blumhouse and Paramount have found a way to make this a successful genre. Project Almanac, the latest found footage film, is an eclectic mix of Paranormal Activity, Back to the Future and Looper and it's a pretty forgettable experience. Not to say that I didn't enjoy Project Almanac- it's a moderately enjoyable teen sci-fi film with likable leads and some cool ideas. But in the end, it's a bit tedious and doesn't do anything that's really special or unique. Project Almanac would surely be a fun movie to watch at home, but it's not worth a theater trip.

David Raskin (Jonny Weston) is an MIT-bound genius inventor, who's just as socially awkward as you'd expect. David, along with friends Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista) and his sister Christina (Virginia Gardner) go around filming everything and experimenting with all sorts of different technologies. When David discovers an old tape that features a mysterious image, he learns that there are plans for a time travel machine down in his late father's workshop. David and friends begin to experiment with the machine and discover that it works. They use the machine to go back and have lots of fun, until everything comes crashing down on them.

For a guy that is supposed to be an MIT whiz kid, David Raskin is pretty dumb. Granted, he invents a time machine and does a lot of amazing things. But when it gets bad, David just keeps making the same mistakes over and over again to the point where I questioned his sanity. The characters' idiocy is consistently a problem throughout Project Almanac, with the teenagers always making choices that are completely bizarre. If you don't think about it too much, Project Almanac will probably be a really fun time at the movies. But if you're more serious about film (or if you've ever seen a time travel movie before), you'll poke many holes in Project Almanac in no time.

Despite the plot's logic problems, the cast is absolutely terrific. These young kids have serious charisma and I enjoyed all of their performances. Sam Lerner has a great comedic career ahead of him in Hollywood and I thought that Weston and Evangelista were great as well. The girls, Virginia Gardner and Sofia Black-D'Elia, were good as well but neither really stood out to me. Those five principle players pretty much carry this entire film and there isn't much of a supporting cast. However, the main actors have more than enough charisma to keep this flick going.

I also found Project Almanac to be a constantly engaging film. I was never bored and the story, while familiar, was very entertaining. Director Dean Isrealite and screenwriters Andrew Deutschman and Jason Pagan provide some interesting scenarios for the characters to experience (like a VIP trip to Lollapalooza) and they manage to keep the film feeling fresh despite the fairly cliched story tropes.

Although the film plays it safe most of the time, the ending is appropriately baffling. Basically, in the last half hour everything gets really convoluted. Timelines change by the day and David keeps altering history and all the events that occur around him. The film seems to come to a satisfactory conclusion, but then throws a bizarre and somewhat unnecessary coda in there that questions your idea of everything that had just happened. I'm not really sure what went down at the end of this film, but I did enjoy that the film went for something different. I would have definitely liked a bit more clarity, yet the film didn't provide it.

The cast is great and the film is consistently fun, but is there much here? To be honest, not really. It's a decent flick. I know I'm damning this film with faint praise, but it's the truth. I don't have much to detract from the film and I also don't have a ton of positives. I didn't even truly have the motivation to write this review. I just didn't feel like I had much to add to the conversation.

Basically, Project Almanac is a fantastic rental. It's a movie that you'll watch and home and you'll be impressed by it. There's just not enough here for me to recommend that you see it in theaters. The actors are good, the script features some unique settings and solid dialogue and I enjoyed the puzzling ending, but most of this film is standing on well-worn ground. The moronic characters don't do much to improve things either and after a while, this film just gets repetitive. Project Almanac could launch many successful Hollywood careers, but it's only moderately successful in what it sets out to accomplish.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.9/10)

Image Credits: Movie Pilot, Chicago Tribune, Flickering Myth, Screen Rant

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