“Project Power” Movie Review


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     Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have come a long way since their debut film, 2010’s “Catfish”, which engrossed the nation with its real life look at the potential pitfalls of falling in love with someone online who you’ve yet to meet in person.  The filmmaking duo would go on to take the helm of the “Paranormal Activity” franchise, directing both the third and fourth installments and showing plenty of promise in their ability to create something that feels new, even when the material is anything but.  Perhaps that’s what led them to their latest film, “Project Power”, a Netflix offering that falls directly in line with the streamer’s recent pattern of original superhero releases likely designed to steal away some of the Marvel audience, who have been waiting impatiently on the sidelines with theaters closed and no other way to follow the exploits of their favorite characters.  

     Unfortunately, “Project Power”, even while armed with a fairly novel concept, never manages to stray from the standard comic book film formula and suffers greatly for it.  Just when you think the screenwriter, Mattson Tomlin, has created something destined to break the mold, a painfully standard third act unravels with minimal surprise and predictable character arcs that are likely to leave you unsatisfied when the credits roll.  

     Stop me when you’ve heard this one before.  Three unlikely heroes team up to take down an evil plot.  They endure the hardship of separate paths leading them to the inevitable showdown, which is nothing more than some nefarious lair where the ringleader and obligatory henchman are conducting experiments in the name of some half baked plan to rule the world.  It’s exactly the same thing the “Austin Powers” films were making fun of, but we still see the same formula in these films anyway.  If only the filmmakers could have manufactured a viable twist that could’ve turned upside down everything we thought about the story before that point.  But it never comes.  In fact, there isn’t really anything impactful that you haven’t already seen before.

     The premise here follows a glowing pill being peddled by dealers within the dark underbelly of New Orleans.  It is said users who ingest the substance will experience a superpower for five minutes, which will vary from person to person, or as a matter of plot convenience.  Much of this is depicted in a similar fashion to the different abilities of the characters in the “X-Men” films, but with less or no development.  Many times, the people in “Project Power” who take the drug are in place as an adversary designed as a gate that gets the main characters closer to the people responsible.  So we see one low life drug dealer take the pill and suddenly burst into flames in much the same way as a more famous “Fantastic Four” character would, allowing for a short lived fight sequence that seems to function for the audience’s entertainment and nothing more.

     The story centers around Robin (Dominique Fishback), a low level dealer who is doing so in order to support her mother who suffers from diabetes and has no health insurance.  Yes, the message of how people who live within marginalized communities have been dealt a raw deal in life comes through loud and clear, though only their desperation to survive is explored with no real solutions offered.  Robin works regularly with Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a plain clothes New Orleans Police Officer who is investigating the origins of the pill, while also looking to acquire the drug for himself in order to level the playing field with the criminals on the street.  His, and many of the other characters “super power” as it were, happens to be invincibility to bullets, which is comical given the fact we just saw another Netflix film, “The Old Guard”, which featured super heroes with the exact same power, thus meaning both films feature crucial plot driving scenes where bullet wounds heal instantly, pushing the bullets right out of their bodies.

     Robin and Frank eventually cross paths with Art (Jamie Foxx), an ex-military type who has personal reasons for locating the source of the pill and stopping its manufacturing for good.  But everything that happens has the trio on a collision course to that evil lair we tend to end up at in films like this, where the story devolves into a video game of sorts, as our protagonists are faced with various levels of bad guys whose super powers are all different when they’ve taken the pill. Again, mostly for plot convenience.  All of the doors in the facility are locked? No worries, one of the henchman takes the pill, and his power is super strength, allowing him to push through massive doors made of solid steal.  Problem solved!

     None of it is overly inventive and the conclusion feels derivative of so much that has been done before.  Art’s final stand in particular instantly conjures images of “Dark Phoenix”, making the film’s ending seem lazy, as if the filmmakers were proceeding on a great idea, but couldn’t nail the landing.  Don’t get me wrong, “Project Power” is a serviceable entertainment, and with Foxx and Levitt turning in solid performances, as well as the undeniable scene stealing tendancies displayed by Fishback , the film has its merits, but if the intent here is to mimic that of something suitable for the big screen, then Joost and Schulman have fallen woefully short. The overall experience just feels second rate.  GRADE: C