The best thing about 2012’s “Project X”: It’s only eighty-eight minutes long.
The second best thing about “Project X”: Even if you watch the extended cut, it’s only ninety-four minutes.
The worst thing about “Project X”: “Project X.”
The keep-case cover boasts that the movie comes “from producer Todd Phillips, the director of ‘The Hangover.'” What it doesn’t say is that Phillips was also responsible for the hopelessly inane “Road Trip,” “Starsky & Hutch,” and “Hangover II.”
With “Project X,” Phillips was apparently attempting to capitalize on the successes of pseudo-documentary films like “The Blair Witch Project,” “Cloverfield,” and “Paranormal Activity” in order to create the illusion of a real-life event, the “most epic teen party of all time,” that never could have taken place. Phillips hired relatively unknown actors for the movie to give it an intentionally documentary-like feel; used jerky, shaky, digital camera work to simulate a home-movie effect; and hired a first-time feature-film director, Nima Nourizadeh, to handle the routine directing chores. The result is every bit as bad as the idea behind it.
Knowing that nobody was going to fall for the idea of simply a home movie about a wild party, Phillips and writers Michael Bacall and Matt Drake filled it with as much profanity, sex, nudity, drugs, drinking, and outrageous behavior they could come up with. Nothing helped, not even the additional profanity, sex, nudity, drugs, and drinking of the extended cut. It’s just infantile nonsense, where young people are out for supposedly harmless fun, and parents, police, and neighbors are all idiots.
Still, I suppose there are people out there looking for sleazy, vicarious thrills who will enjoy it. And these same people will undoubtedly reject any of my criticisms as coming from some old fart who can no longer appreciate youthful fun. Be that as it may, bad is bad, and this movie is bad on almost every level.
Anyway, the place is North Pasadena, California, in a pleasant, upper-middle-class neighborhood, and the time is the present. Thomas Cubb (Thomas Mann) is turning seventeen, and his best friends Costa (Oliver Cooper) and J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) are determined to throw him the biggest birthday party ever, whether he likes it or not. Because Thomas’s parents will be conveniently out of town the day of Thomas’s birthday, Costa and J.B. decide to throw the party at Thomas’s house. When they do, all hell breaks loose.
Now, here’s the thing: All three friends are rejects, losers, at school; they’re nerds and dorks, with very few friends outside their tiny circle. They really want to throw the party to prove how cool they are to the rest of their high school classmates; they want to fit in, to belong. Another friend, a weirdo named Dax (Dax Flame), follows them around every minute with a video camera, shooting their every move from beginning to end. Fair enough, except that the filmmakers make the party so obscenely grotesque and gargantuan in size, there is no sense of reality about any of it. Thus, we wind up with the filmmakers working at odds with themselves, trying to make something entirely unreal look authentic.
Costa is the instigator and ringleader of the plan; he’s from New Jersey, where he says they really know how to throw a party, and he’s determined they be “big-time playas.” However, big-time playas have to throw big-time parties, so….
They spread the word around about the party through every conceivable means: invitations, word of mouth, flyers, the Internet, Craig’s List, the local radio station; and they ask everyone who’s coming to “bring people” with them. I told you it was silly. On the night of the party, about 1500 people show up, literally, including a busload of college coeds, even a Playboy model, and every single one of them is beautiful or handsome. What are the odds?
The movie’s first half hour or so sets up the arrangements for the party; the final sixty minutes or so detail the events of the party itself, which in the hands of Phillips and his crew turns into a voyeuristic orgy, with no plot and no serious characterizations, just preposterous things getting wildly out of hand.
The movie looks as though it cost about $200 for materials and an equal amount to hire a cast. Then, using various digital cameras to obtain the home-movie effect they wanted, with intentionally bad camera work concentrating mostly on girls’ butts and breasts, the filmmakers get the desired cheapie, amateurish effect they were looking for. Even with so many attractive girls to look at, the movie proves painful to watch.
Now, if only a dinosaur had shown up to tear apart a few people or a witch or an evil poltergeist had materialized to scare a few folks to death, the movie might have been at least a little fun. As it is, the party attracts party goers from all over the city, a SWAT team moves in, a nut case with a flame thrower shows up, television reporters arrive, the house and neighborhood get trashed, and the party turns into a drunken riot. And I don’t mean a laugh riot.
Yes, Phillips must have thought “Project X” would be the comedy of the year. Instead, it’s so totally absurd, it leaves any normal, sensible viewer with his mouth open in wonderment that anyone would make such a mess and call it a movie.
Garbage in, garbage out. Not even the use of a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4/AVC codec can do much to improve upon the soft, flat digital photography; the shaky, blurry camera work; the dark, murky colors; or the anything-but-lifelike facial hues. At least the video engineers didn’t skimp on the film’s theatrical-ratio 1.85:1 screen size, but that’s little compensation.
Warner Bros. use lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio to reproduce the film’s soundtrack, which seems a waste of good audio bits. There’s a loud, banging low end, and that’s about it. The film contains mostly dialogue, supplemented by boomy bass from the musical track. The surround activity is minimal; the frequency response is moderate; the midrange, when you can hear it, is fine; and the bass seems always cranked up to the threshold of pain.
The disc’s primary bonuses include the choice of watching the regular theatrical version of the movie or an extended cut that is about six minutes longer. In addition, there are three brief featurettes: “Project X: Declassified,” a little over five minutes of talk about the film from some of the filmmakers; “Project X: “Pasadena Three,” some six minutes on the casting of the three main characters; and “Project Xpensive: Tallying Up the Damages,” about three minutes of talk on how much stuff cost to destroy in the film.
Then, we find a whopping nine scene selections; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages; French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
Finally, because this is a Combo Pack, we get the movie in high definition on Blu-ray and in standard definition on DVD and UltraViolet, the latter offer expiring June 19, 2014. The BD and DVD come housed in a flimsy Blu-ray Eco-case, further enclosed in a light-cardboard slipcover.
I’m not entirely sure who the filmmakers were trying to reach with “Project X.” My guess is that it was older teens and college students who felt cheated that they never experienced parties like the one depicted in the movie. Of course, no such party ever existed, except perhaps in the minds of a few deluded viewers who would no doubt swear they attended exactly such a party when they were in high school or college. In any case, “Project X” appears to be a way for the filmmakers to make the most inexpensive motion picture they could in order to capitalize on the greatest possible box-office return. If you watch the trailer, you’ve seen the movie. It’s kind of like reality TV. You get what you pay for.