Remember as a teenager, being invited to a party that sounded cool, then going to the party and realizing it wasn’t quite as cool as it sounds?
That’s sort of like what happens during Project X, a movie about an epic suburban high-school rave that delivers on its promise of reckless party-hearty anarchy, but forgets that quality moviemaking requires other elements to provide anything more than surface appeal.
It’s the latest example of the ubiquitous found-footage movie, taking place during a single night in Pasadena, Calif., where the naïve parents of Thomas (Thomas Mann) leave him alone for the weekend of his 17th birthday, when he is supposed to celebrate during a quiet party with his best friend Costa (Oliver Cooper).
But Costa has other ideas, mainly to use the opportunity to parlay the occasion into a quest for popularity by inviting everyone at school for a night of all-out debauchery. When things quickly escalate out of control, the hosts must make the decision either to call it off or risk some severe consequences later.
The film contains a certain level of appeal as a sort of fantasy for teens who are tired of watered-down cinematic depictions of high-school life. Many of them have dreamed of a night like this, but either haven’t had the guts, the connections or the access to parental stupidity to pull it off.
Deep down, of course, it’s supposed to be about an outsider’s desire to be one of the cool kids, something you can assume hits close to home for screenwriters Michael Bacall (21 Jump Street) and Matt Drake or rookie director Nima Nourizadeh. Perhaps there’s a cautionary notion about nerds and bullies in there somewhere.
Give the movie some credit for its edgy sense of audacity and gleefully poor taste. It sufficiently achieves its goal of being every parent’s worst nightmare, right down to the “my kid would never do that, he’s a loner” upper-middle class mentality.
But the film doesn’t offer much beyond that basic concept — make the party as creatively wild and raunchy as possible — and turns flat and predictable in the second half. The film’s clumsy attempts to give its characters some emotional depth feel tacked-on and disingenuous.
Project X doesn’t offer the typical Hollywood view of contemporary teenage life, but that doesn’t mean it’s realistic either. The truth is probably somewhere in between.
Rated R, 88 minutes.