PROJECT POWER is only a half realized film and it feels as though it was rushed out to market too fast, when the “completed” story and script felt like it was still in its developmental stages at best. It is a 1 hr and 50 minute movie, where 10 minutes consist of just the end credits, the 1st hour feels like the first act of a movie with no 2nd act, and the last 40 minutes is just a very ho-hum by the book auto pilot climax. And was is so disappointing is the fact that it has a pretty neat premise that wastes a lot of its potential. Per IMDB: “When a pill that gives its users unpredictable superpowers for five minutes hits the streets of New Orleans, a teenage dealer and a local cop must team up with an ex-soldier to take down the group responsible for its creation.” The possibilities are endless in that description. What the description doesn’t tell you is that the premise doesn’t challenge its audience with any deeper way of thinking. What would be the real ramifications if such a pill existed? Instead, it is a very generic story about a father taking down the people that kidnapped his daughter, a cop that uses the pills even though he wants to take down the group responsible for it, and a kid that is a dealer of the pills because she needs the money for her and her poor mother. Everything is spoon fed to you, the viewer. There are no sit down conversations on the ethics of the pill, or any dialogue about the ethics of a good cop using it but still trying to do the right thing, nothing. It’s a one time watch action movie with some neat special effects and solid performances by the three leads. Nothing more, nothing less. If this were a school project, it would barely get a passing grade from most teachers. In my world those teachers would be casual movie goers. Me? With my obsession and knowledge of film I would be more of a college professor in this instance, and I would maybe…MAYBE give them another chance at a do over, but I certainly wouldn’t let them hand in what they already have.
The main problem with the movie is that the first hour feels like act one of a movie, then they completely skip the second act and go straight to the third. The movie isn’t terribly hastily edited like 2016’s Suicide Squad was, however they share one thing in common: there are too many introductory scenes. All set ups, and absolutely no gradual pay offs. There is no second act, there is no turn. It’s like when a teacher at school is giving the class a ‘following instructions’ lesson where they present the students a maze and tell them to “draw a straight line from the beginning to the end of the maze.” Those that don’t follow those directions try to solve the unsolvable maze instead of just doing what the teacher told them. She didn’t say solve the maze. She said ‘draw a straight line.’ The 2nd act of any movie would be solving the maze to get to the climax. This movie is just one of those ‘following instructions’ lesson. There are scenes 40 to 60 minutes into this movie that feel like they should’ve belonged in the first 15 minutes. Each of the three leads, played by Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Dominique Fishback get their own introductions, and then we they meet up one by one, they get yet another set up scene. For example, Fishback’s character, in her introductory scene, let’s us know that she is an aspiring rapper, and she’s really good. But when she finally meets Jamie Foxx’s character, she tells him and does what we already know she can do, because we saw it ten minutes earlier. When she raps to him, THAT should’ve been the reveal that she was a good rapper. THAT should’ve been a pay off to a previously established intro. But her introductory scene involves a teacher getting onto her for failing his class in front of her classmates and then proceeds to tell her he will give her a C if she can prove she’s a good rapper right then and there. So she raps, and you think she’s successful, but then it’s reveal it was all in her head. The movie should’ve cut out imagination sequence out and saved that reveal for when she meets Foxx mid film.
And while the other introductory scenes (other than that one I just described, they are mostly action packed introductory scenes) are well acted, look good special effects wise, and fun (because we get to see what different superpowers all these people get for five minutes), it’s not anything we haven’t seen before, specifically from the X-Men franchise. Plus, the action scenes in (most of) those films had twist or turns mid scene. None of the action scenes in this challenge the audience or the characters. Sure, a lot of them set their watches to 5 minutes, but instead of the script throwing the characters a curve ball in the last couple of seconds of having superpowers, all of the characters seem to be smart and just shrug off the fact that their time is up after their watch beeps at them. Also, this movie is kind of supposed to be a detective story, yet instead of the characters doing any detective work to find this organization responsible for these pills, they are handed everything on a silver platter. They just “run into” what they need to take them into the next scene, which is forced plot progression. None of this film is complicated, it is 100% predictable. Will Jamie Foxx find his kidnapped daughter? Will the three leads survive the film? Near mid film, when everything still felt introductory, Foxx reveals that he took the pill before and it almost killed him…so do you think he takes another pill by the climax? I’ll give you a hint, all three answers to those three questions are all obvious, and they are all the same answer. And the movie doesn’t even really have a central interesting villain. 300’s Rodrigo Santoro is set up as one, and without really revealing much, he is disappointingly not in the movie that long, even less screen time than he got in the third season of Westworld. His character is completely uninteresting until he takes one of the pills, and even then that is short lived and anti-climatic. Other than his character, there are two women characters that are supposed to be these distribution type government drug “bad guy” bosses, but they are barely in the film to even matter.
So let me ask you this: how do you expect to be a superpower/superhero like movie without a central supervillain? Answer: YOU CAN’T. That’s why this movie ultimately falls flat on its face several times throughout: there is no interesting threat, you feel like the protagonists will end up saving the day with only a brush off their shoulder to get rid of the minor debris. Even though there is no threat, Jamie Foxx, Joseph-Gordon Levitt, and Dominique Fishback all do a fantastic job acting to make you think like maybe there actually is one. Before going into this, I thought the direction was going to be the problem. Project Power is directed by Henry Joose and Ariel Schulman, the duo behind movies like the barely watchable Nerve and Paranormal Activity 3, and the unwatchable 4th movie in that franchise. The only decent film they have done is 2010’s Catfish, which as you know, coined that now famous phrase and sparked the television show of the same name. No, this isn’t their fault, as this is probably their best shot film, with some cool sequences such as Jamie Foxx fighting people around a tank, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s introductory scenes, and certain parts of the climax. The problem is ALL script, written by a man named Mattson Tomlin who not only doesn’t have much writing experience but who…oh God no…who is also writing The Batman movie that stars Robert Pattinson. At least Project Power isn’t as bad as it could’ve been, it just isn’t a fully formed idea. And at least he’s not the sole writer of The Batman, but is co-writing it with director Matt Reeves, who is a more experienced filmmaker. With a solid resume, Mr. Reeves could help Mr. Tomlin fully form a fantastic idea and premise. So I’m not too worried. As for this film though, it’s just a mindless and unmemorable one time watch Netflix action-er that will be lost in the pile in the coming years. This project produced enough decent sparks to get going, but in the end had as much power as a typical assembly line machine, doing the same thing over and over again, nothing different, and with little effort.