With Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Alexis Knapp. Written by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall. Directed by Nima Nourizadeh. Rated R (for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, drugs, drinking, pervasive language, reckless behavior and mayhem – all involving teens). 88 minutes.
The funniest thing about PROJECT X may be the overreaction of critics to it. Yes, of course, it’s a stupid, badly made film about a high school party gone out-of-control that treats nearly all of its female characters as masturbatory aids. Yet this same low level of leadenly directed crass humor has been hailed as hilarious in movies like “The Hangover” and, for female viewers, “Bridesmaids.” Is it my colleagues objecting to moronic behavior when it’s by teenagers, or are they finally waking up after a long binge of bad comedies?
Since every few weeks requires a new experience in “shaky cam,” the story unfolds through the camera lens of Dax (Dax Flame), whose slowly revealed backstory may be the best joke of the film. The premise is that Thomas (Thomas Mann) is turning 18. His best friend Costa (Oliver Cooper) is planning on taking advantage of Thomas’s parents being away by throwing the party to end all parties. As the parents warn them about having friends over and what things are off limits, the trajectory of the film becomes glaringly obvious. For example: expensive car not to be touched + swimming pool. Do the math.
The party finally gets underway and all the expected things happen. The booze and drugs flow. Nubile California babes go topless. Guys act like jerks. Many more people than expected show up at the party. Neighbors complain. The police are called. The “off limits” house is breached. Destruction occurs. A guy with a flame thrower shows up…
What’s that last one? Yes, even at less than ninety minutes, watching out of control teenagers quickly gets boring – unless you’re a parent and your own offspring is involved. So the filmmakers keep upping the ante. Costa, whose mantra seems to be “I can fix this” every time something goes wrong, finally has to admit that things are beyond his ability to handle.
The one sweet note in this otherwise plodding exercise is that Thomas has a childhood friend (Kirby Bliss Blanton) who he’s suddenly realizing has grown into a very attractive girl. Although he gets seduced by the hot chick (Alexis Knapp), it’s all on the road to learning to be a decent guy… after gaining a reputation for throwing the party of the year. Although it’s a bit of a cliché, at least it’s a minimal acknowledgement that it’s more important to have a real relationship than to briefly live out a fantasy.
If all this sounds like a rip-off of “Superbad,” you’re right. That was another vulgar and overrated comedy that received much critical praise. “Project X” is simply the latest in a long line of such films. Maybe the fact that so many are starting to realize just how empty, tasteless and misogynist most of these movies are is good. Perhaps the party for such awfulness is finally over.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.