With Jonny Weston, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, Amy Landecker. Written by Jason Pagan, Andrew Stark. Directed by Dean Israelite. Rated PG-13 for some language and sexual content. 106 minutes.
PROJECT ALMANAC is an ambitious tale about time travel that resembles the old variety show act involving the guy spinning plates. A lot of them may break, but you may end up being impressed at how many plates keep spinning and for how long. In the end it doesn’t quite work, but the young teen audience this movie is being pitched to probably won’t mind.
David Raskin (Jonny Weston) is a bit of a scientific genius, just like his late father. His dream is to go to MIT. When things don’t turn out exactly as planned, he starts rummaging through his father’s stuff and discovers what seems to be the plans and equipment for a time travel device. After some experimenting, he and four other teens start traveling through time. For reasons only vaguely made clear, they can only go short distances.
David has a crush on Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia) and discovers that time travel is a good way to correct his adolescent missteps. Then it turns out there are consequences to their actions in the past, and he has to fix those, leading to more unforeseen consequences. What’s a boy genius to do?
Weston, Black-D’Elia and the rest of the teen cast are fine, playing recognizable high schoolers without letting them turn into cartoonish characters. Their adolescent motivations are believable even if the actions they take require a suspension of disbelief.
The problem with the movie is that the filmmakers have made two miscalculations. First, they’ve made this a “found footage” film. David’s sister is supposedly running around with a video camera recording everything. The problem is that there are sequences in the story where no one is present to do the filming, and yet others that suggest a film editor has gone over the footage. This defeats the whole concept of doing a faked cinéma vérité style film.
The other problem is that the script has loose ends all over the place. There are references to various time travel films, leaving out both the classic “The Time Machine” and the silly “Hot Tub Time Machine,” the latter of which these kids would have certainly seen. Major events–like them winning the lottery–make no changes in the present other than them coming into money, yet their attending a concert leads to catastrophic results for no discernible reason. By film’s end the filmmakers have painted themselves into a corner leading to the movie’s somewhat unsatisfying resolution.
“Project Almanac” wants to be a smart film playing with the paradoxes inherent in the science fiction idea of time travel and, just like one of the movies it cites–the disappointing 2012 film “Looper”–it never fully engages with the concept. It’s a film that fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds may relate to as they think about what they would do with such a device, but it will leave many viewers wishing they could go back in time and prevent themselves from buying tickets to it in the first place.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.