I had hoped Project X would have a happy ending, but then all the characters didn’t burn to death in a house fire. Welcome to a world inhabited by more hateful human beings than traditionally seen in an episode of Dance Moms. Director Nima Nourizadeh makes his feature debut with this found-footage high school party flick, and he can be proud to have replicated the seedy atmosphere of a Girls Gone Wild video (only this has less substance). It’s fitting that the soundtrack should primarily be comprised of remixes and mash-ups, as the whole experiment feels like the collision of two previously successful entities into a new catastrophic crime against nature: like Superbad crossed with Chronicle, only without any redeeming elements.
The film is not bad because it is devoid of a moral compass (well, not just because of that). It’s bad because its black heart and embarrassing excuse for raunch feels so desperate, and totally free of self-awareness. Project X “dares” you to find it offensive; however, no one could possibly mistake it for a dangerous, provocative, or hip movie-of-the-moment, excluding perhaps any viewer who also considers LMFAO music videos among the wittiest and most subversive works of art around. The central teens’ primary concern is that their peers consider them socially acceptable; the film shares the same fears, but in its quest to ingratiate itself with the ‘cool kids’ (i.e. every better movie from this genre) it comes across as sad and pathetic, bumming everybody out in the process.
Anyway, there’s a plot so thin it’s barely worth repeating. For tradition’s sake: Thomas’ (Thomas Mann) parents are out of town on his birthday weekend, and he has the house all to himself. His foul-mouthed best friend, Costa (Oliver Cooper – saddled with a genuine contender for the most unpleasant figure in the history of literature), bullies him into hosting an epic party, where they will inevitably drown in [insert every horrifying slang word for female genitalia you can imagine]. Also eager to share in the sexual awakening is a Jonah Hill/Josh Gad clone (Jonathan Daniel Brown), and a creepy loner who wants to record the event for posterity’s sake. The party gets out of control, and then it gets out of control, culminating in an orgy/riot that nearly destroys the neighbourhood. The picture opens with a message from Warner Bros thanking all the participants who provided them with the video footage. It should have ended with an apology to all the actors (particularly the women) for what they were subjected to. And while they’re at it, the audience too.
Screenwriter Michael Bacall also penned the excellent Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and I have a hard time relating that thoughtful, sweet, hilarious screenplay to this sad, vile, and (worst of all) seriously unfunny script. Perhaps all the good bits were excised in favour of more up-skirting shots, I don’t know. To bring up Superbad again (a film I unabashedly declared the seventh best flick of the 2000s); that similarly traffics in sleazy sex talk and a features a couple of wild parties. But, above all, it is about male friendship, and is never afraid to call out its protagonists for their flaws. Superbad elaborates on why the characters are the way they are, and they are eventually redeemed. It also has a lovely resolution in which the two boys pledge their love to one another, and then mournfully part ways. That movie is closer in spirit to Ghost World, which tells a similar tale from the ladies’ perspective. Project X assumes what makes pictures like Superbad, or Fast Times at Ridgemont High, or Animal House great is the swearing and the nudity. Never mind that in all those aforementioned instances there is something deeper going on under the surface, even if it’s just capturing a time and a place and conveying it with humour, warmth, or perhaps scathing commentary. Producer Todd Phillips (The Hangover, Due Date) loves to experiment with unlikable leads, and that’s admirable in a way. In Project X though, he revels in cruel, unironic misogyny that inspires bouts of depression far more often than it inspires chuckles. On a scale of ‘A’ to ‘Z’, even ‘X’ feels a little generous.
Project X is now showing in Australian cinemas