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Friday, January 30, 2015

Movie Review: Project Almanac

Time-traveling teenagers waste every gift in the found-footage feature bore.
WARNING: This review contains massive spoilers.

Review by Matt Cummings

If you saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and who would want to admit it), you might have noticed some shameless self-promotion by Producer Michael Bay advertising his new movie Project Almanac. Well, that film has arrived and the result is decidedly awful.

When teen smarty nerd David (Jonny Weston) discovers that his long-deceased father created a 'Still Needs Work' time machine in their basement, David, his sister (Ginny Gardner), and best friends Adam (Allen Evangelista) and Quinn (Sam Lerner) document their discovery and completion of said device. The enitre escape begins when David discovers a hidden family camera that seems to show a fuzzy glimpse of present-day David in the background. With the machine built and powered by the Prius batteries of the sexiest under-friended girl at school Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia), the group begins to time travel, first to win the lottery and then to live the life of teens desperate for attention. But soon, the rules of time travel begin to pile up, and what seemed like a fun project at the time becomes a lesson in immutability for a son desperate to re-connect with this father and keep his new girlfriend.

What begins as an interesting concept and a stay-till-the-end plot devloves into a silly teen film, filled with leggy undernourished girls getting too much screen time as they parade their time machine around like a whore does her wares. Movies don't require a big budget to tell their stories, just good scripts, and Writera Andrew Deutschman and Jason Pagan spend little time in wasting every asset they have on the chess board. This isn't a smart action film or a terse thriller about choices and how you undo them, but an excuse to misuse an invention that could make things right, and one that David could use to bring his father back. Instead, he and his foolish friends do everything else before David finally takes the plunge, only to undo the entire premise of the story. There's the partying, the lottery money, and the fixing of grades without so much as a worry about paradox (whether you'll see yourself in a different version). There's no smart science here, and any rules established in previous (and far-better) films is tossed to the side or flat-out ignored.

The most compelling portion of the story - the fate of David's father - is virtually ignored until the last 10 minutes, leaving minimal time for the two to meet and for David to destroy his time machine. But in doing so, wouldn't time travel rules suggest that his documentation would also perish? At film's end, the presence of two cameras found in the attic (where there was only one to begin with) shows two different versions of the events, leading David to still meet Jessie. But, does that mean he will still build the machine smarter, go the Lollapalooza, and perhaps save his dad? Deutschman and Pagan have zero interest in exploring a story with seriously interesting undertones, and first-time Director Dean Israelite doesn't help, his shaky cam eventually leading me to put down my soda and popcorn so I would get sick.

MTV Films - who's in partner here with Paramount and Bay - could have made a game-changer, one that could have redefined the genre. The suggestion that David's father might have been killed to protect the machine? Ignored. The truth behind the machine's existence in the first place? Ignored as well.

Almanac's cast is your typical suburban haul, filled with good-looking teens who came right out of makeup trailer. The only one worth mentioning is Weston, a potential star in the making, but who has yet to be given the green light to a bigger career. We first saw him in the indie hit Chasing Mavericks, and here he brings some of that ability with him. I say 'some' because it's hard in the end to see such a potential prom king don glasses and pretend to be a nerdy high schooler - it just doesn't work, nor does his turn to the dark side as he tries to seek the affections of Jessie by re-doing his first kiss. None of that is particularly well done, and it's the point where the entire story turns sour.

Project Almanac is just another submission in the tired 'found footage' genre, a film that takes all of its potential and tosses it aside for leggy teens making bad choices. It's one of the worst films of the year, and a clear indication that both Bay and the genre need a reboot.

Project Alamanac is rated PG-13 for some language and sexual content and has a runtime of 106 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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