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Tue, 06 Mar 2012
By Thomas Leupp
My dick is going to get so wet tonight,” declares Costa, the foul-mouthed ringleader of a trio of sex-starved teens, in the opening moments of Project X, the new “found-footage” comedy from director Nima Nourizadeh and producer Todd Phillips (The Hangover). Believe it or not, this qualifies as one of his more charming moments in the film. All of 17 but blessed with an obnoxiousness lesser men would take decades to cultivate, Costa (Oliver Cooper) is the perfect mascot for a film that makes no bones of its mostly prurient intentions, proffering what is essentially a succession of debaucherous montages, intermingled with uneven attempts at comedy and held together by the slimmest pretense of a plot.
Caustic as he is, Costa at least exhibits something of a recognizable personality; the same cannot be said of his two cohorts, the tubby dweeb J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) and the earnest blank Thomas (Thomas Mann). None of them seem to enjoy much in the way of popularity at their high school, located in the fictional suburb of North Pasadena, but Costa has a plan to fix that. On the occasion of his 17th birthday, Thomas, whose parents have conveniently departed for the weekend, reluctantly agrees to host a party that Costa promises will be a “game-changer” for their lowly social status.
Hardly a game-changer is Project X's script, co-written by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall, which mostly treads a predictable teen-comedy path. At its outset, the party appears to be a bust. Soon, however, hordes of eager revelers descend upon Thomas' house, and the event swiftly devolves into a festival of wanton hedonism that would impress Charlie Sheen. The orgy of booze, drugs, and sex is captured by Nourizadeh in one impressively slick sequence after another, set to a vibrant soundtrack.
To maintain the guise of an actual movie – and to occupy us between shots of topless beauties downing tequila and frolicking in the pool – Project X tosses in a few familiar tropes to push its story along: an unstable drug-dealer bent on revenge, a buzzkilling neighbor seeking to end the night's festivities prematurely, a budding but hesitant attraction between Thomas and his childhood friend Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton). But the scenes are so hollow and contrived that you get the sense even the filmmakers don't buy them, and only added them to the film in a transparent ploy to forestall allegations of complete and utter vapidity. The efforts serve only to add a dash of the banal to the proceedings.
Project X's natural forebears – R-rated teen comedies Superbad and American Pie – tempered their crudity and outrageousness with a surprising degree of depth and sincerity. Moreover, they were actually funny. Project X is a shallow affair, to be sure, but a dearth of laughs is what ultimately dooms it. A belligerent little person who goes on a crotch-kicking spree after being tossed in an oven amounts to the film's most sophisticated attempt at humor. More often it relies on recycled gags from previous films (including Phillips' own library, from Road Trip to The Hangover Part II) and Jackass-inspired mishaps.The found-footage approach has proven to be a potent (if overused) tool in horror films, but its utility in the service of comedy, at least in the hands of Nourizadeh, is limited. It mostly comes across as a needless gimmick, good for marketing purposes but little else. Perhaps acknowledging as much, Project X's backup plan calls for an incessant raising of the stakes. As the once-innocuous gathering metastasizes into a fully-fledged riot, one so dangerous that even the police dare not intervene, the specter of parental disapproval gives way to the threat of incarceration, and, finally, to the potential incineration of the entire neighborhood. The scale of the destruction is impressive – especially for such a (presumably) low-budget film – but, like much of what precedes it, almost entirely pointless.
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