Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews Project X
Every generation has its high school party movie – an over-the-top film experience that compiles all of the terrible and zany things that happen when underage teens get together and drink too much. In the ’70s it was American Graffiti, in the ’80s, Sixteen Candles, in the ’90s, American Pie, in the ’00s, Superbad, and now, in the ’10s, it’s Project X.
Unfortunately, where prior party films managed to offer compelling characters and intriguing (possibly cathartic) story beats that worked in the context of teens trying to make sense of their approaching adulthood, Project X is nothing more than a celebration of young people doing terrible things – to property, to animals, to themselves, and to the people they care about.
Like earlier generations (via their own party movies), current high school seniors may find things to identify with in Project X - from stolen looks with the hottest girl in class, to stumbling around drunk with your friends – not to mention the pressing need for acceptance driving you to do almost anything. However, for the rest of us, these moments aren’t likely to be quite as captivating.
The film was produced by Hangover director Todd Phillips, but unlike that film, Project X is short on compelling leading men, as well as entertaining comedy scenes. As a result, the compiled “found footage” fails to offer anything but cliché high school archetypes, subpar “did that just happen” moments, as well as a bizarre and completely convoluted through-line about what really matters in life. Basically, if you’re looking for anything more than one thousand teenagers demolishing a house and grinding on each other, there’s very little to enjoy in Project X.
The “story” is a basic rags-to-riches tale of a trio of unpopular teens who are bullied by jocks and cheerleaders – until Costa (Oliver Cooper) uses the birthday of best friend Thomas (Thomas Mann) as an excuse to throw an epic house party that will make the pair – along with their third-wheel, J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) – socially relevant at school. At first, Thomas is reluctant to host the party, but is quickly won-over when Costa walks him around the campus pointing at all the hot girls that might show up. Of course, the party’s proposed fifty person limit is quickly overrun, and as more and more teens descend on the Mann household, pandemonium breaks out – resulting in the systematic destruction of the house, as well as the surrounding neighborhood.
It’s certainly possible for audience members to be won over by the film’s love for topless girls and midgets that punch men (and women) in the crotch; however, core elements lack any of the basic ingredients for anything approaching even a nominal film experience – ultimately preventing Project X from being anything more than a bottom rung (and senseless) celebration of debauchery and destruction.
As mentioned, the characters in Project X are clichéd high school archetypes – which, grounded in a better story, might have been passable. Unfortunately, not one of the three lead players is interesting or particularly enjoyable to watch from scene to scene. Thomas is resigned to a mish-mash pairing of freakouts and “time of my life” moments that make it difficult to feel bad for him when things get out of control. Similarly, Costa (the driving force behind the party) could be one of the least likable teen protagonists in movie history. While a similar balls-to-the wall disregard for others worked for Stifler (in American Pie), Costa lacks a key ingredient that made Seann William Scott’s character enjoyable: a workable sense of humor. Instead, the Project X character moves from one situation to another spouting least-common-denominator pick up lines that don’t translate into humorous moments onscreen and instead are likely to just make normal moviegoers feel bad for all the “Costas” they actually know in the real world.
Costa is representative of a larger problem in Project X – essentially that, without compelling characters to keep audiences invested, it’s hard to make sense of, or be concerned about, the onscreen chaos. The film never attempts to say anything profound about a culture where lying to your parents and throwing the biggest, most destructive party in history is the solution to self-esteem problems – a major offense for audience members who can’t be won-over by co-eds in a bouncy castle. That said, as a film, the biggest failure of Project X is the sheer lack of interesting set-pieces, as most moviegoers aren’t likely to be as upset about a shattered window or broken chandelier as Thomas (especially since it’s hard to like the guy).
These shortcomings are further complicated by the film’s “found footage” format, which attempts to ground the party as a real-life event, making all of the ridiculous antics and we’ve-seen-this-before character interactions all the more absurd – without adding anything interesting to the actual presentation. As the party rages, popular girls swoon to get a moment alone with Thomas, dozens of college co-eds swim topless in the family pool, and a riot even breaks out. Despite the format, the resulting onscreen (teenage?) action cannot be taken seriously and comes across as little more than a self-indulgent dream from someone who’s never been to an actual house party. This point is further evidenced by the resulting aftermath of the party, which shows a shocking lack of respect for the characters and the overarching situation – as the filmmakers dust over responsibility and divert the audience’s attention away from actually dealing with any challenging ramifications.
Unlike prior “house party” movies, Project X says nothing meaningful about its subject matter, and instead paints teens as an unlikeable and, worse yet, reckless bunch of automatons that would risk injury to themselves as well as others just for a passing glance from a pretty girl. However, the film’s greatest offense (far worse than its immature take on teen culture) is the surprising lack of entertainment value it presents. Aside from a few semi-outrageous moments (most of which can be seen in the film’s trailer), the party of the century is actually pretty boring on film.
Maybe you just had to be there.
If you’re still on the fence about Project X, check out the trailer below:
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick - and let us know what you thought of the film below.
Project X is rated R for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, drugs, drinking, pervasive language, reckless behavior and mayhem – all involving teens. Now playing in theaters.