“My dick is going to get so wet tonight ” declares Costa the foul-mouthed ringleader of a trio of sex-starved teens in the opening moments of Project X the new “found-footage” comedy from director Nima Nourizadeh and producer Todd Phillips (The Hangover). Believe it or not this qualifies as one of his more charming moments in the film. All of 17 but blessed with an obnoxiousness lesser men would take decades to cultivate Costa (Oliver Cooper) is the perfect mascot for a film that makes no bones of its mostly prurient intentions proffering what is essentially a succession of debaucherous montages intermingled with uneven attempts at comedy and held together by the slimmest pretense of a plot.
Caustic as he is Costa at least exhibits something of a recognizable personality; the same cannot be said of his two cohorts the tubby dweeb J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) and the earnest blank Thomas (Thomas Mann). None of them seem to enjoy much in the way of popularity at their high school located in the fictional suburb of North Pasadena but Costa has a plan to fix that. On the occasion of his 17th birthday Thomas whose parents have conveniently departed for the weekend reluctantly agrees to host a party that Costa promises will be a “game-changer” for their lowly social status.
Hardly a game-changer is Project X’s script co-written by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall which mostly treads a predictable teen-comedy path. At its outset the party appears to be a bust. Soon however hordes of eager revelers descend upon Thomas’ house and the event swiftly devolves into a festival of wanton hedonism that would impress Charlie Sheen. The orgy of booze drugs and sex is captured by Nourizadeh in one impressively slick sequence after another set to a vibrant soundtrack.
To maintain the guise of an actual movie – and to occupy us between shots of topless beauties downing tequila and frolicking in the pool – Project X tosses in a few familiar tropes to push its story along: an unstable drug-dealer bent on revenge a buzzkilling neighbor seeking to end the night’s festivities prematurely a budding but hesitant attraction between Thomas and his childhood friend Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton). But the scenes are so hollow and contrived that you get the sense even the filmmakers don’t buy them and only added them to the film in a transparent ploy to forestall allegations of complete and utter vapidity. The efforts serve only to add a dash of the banal to the proceedings.
Project X’s natural forebears – R-rated teen comedies Superbad and American Pie – tempered their crudity and outrageousness with a surprising degree of depth and sincerity. Moreover they were actually funny. Project X is a shallow affair to be sure but a dearth of laughs is what ultimately dooms it. A belligerent little person who goes on a crotch-kicking spree after being tossed in an oven amounts to the film’s most sophisticated attempt at humor. More often it relies on recycled gags from previous films (including Phillips’ own library from Road Trip to The Hangover Part II) and Jackass-inspired mishaps.
The found-footage approach has proven to be a potent (if overused) tool in horror films but its utility in the service of comedy at least in the hands of Nourizadeh is limited. It mostly comes across as a needless gimmick good for marketing purposes but little else. Perhaps acknowledging as much Project X’s backup plan calls for an incessant raising of the stakes. As the once-innocuous gathering metastasizes into a fully-fledged riot one so dangerous that even the police dare not intervene the specter of parental disapproval gives way to the threat of incarceration and finally to the potential incineration of the entire neighborhood. The scale of the destruction is impressive – especially for such a (presumably) low-budget film – but like much of what precedes it almost entirely pointless.
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Director David Wain rounds up some of his buddies from the 1990s comedy troupe The State to poke fun at the do’s and don’ts of the Ten Commandments. No need to fall on your knees and pray for forgiveness if you’ve forgotten whose house you should not covet. Wain breaks down the Ten Commandments in episodic fashion and confers the task of introducing each outlandish morality tale upon his Wet Hot American Summer star Paul Rudd. The silliness is firmly established when Wain examines the consequences of worshipping a false idol. In this case it’s Adam Brody who enjoys fame and fortune after he accidentally jumps from a plane sans parachute. Not that he can reap the benefits of sudden stardom—he’s stuck in the ground and can’t be moved. But Brody’s predictament isn’t necessarily the oddest. A 35-year-old virgin (Gretchen Mol) goes weak at the knees when she’s hit on by none other than Jesus Christ (Justin Theroux). Liev Schreiber engages in a game of oneupmanship with his neighbor when both start snapping their town’s supply of CAT scan machines. Life imitates art when Winona Ryder learns the hard way that stealing causes her nothing but pain and shame. Rudd gets in on the fun as the lucky devil juggles married life with Famke Janssen with his booty calls with Jessica Alba. But Wain inflicts the most humiliation on his co-writer Ken Marino whose arrogant surgeon learns the hard way playing pranks on patients will only led to life in prison and a nightly “ass-raping.” As you can tell Wain’s not really into making subtle statements about the set of rules we observe—intentionally or otherwise—in our everyday lives. By finally making good use of her sticky fingers Winona Ryder reveals she’s ready to laugh at her past transgressions. Not that she goes off on a shoplifting spree. No she purloins a ventriloquist’s puppet in the name of love. Nothing in The Ten beats the hilarious though unsettling sight of a game Ryder getting all freaky with her wooden object of affection. She hasn’t let her hair down like this before so good for her. But she’s got some competition from Gretchen Mol whose screams of “Jesus” during hot and sweaty sex are let out with intense religious fervor. The award for Harried Husband of the Year goes to Paul Rudd Knocked Up’s henpecked spouse. But he plays the role of an estranged hubby with such biting wit that he makes marital disharmony a joy to behold. Still it’s hard to see why Famke Janssen and Jessica Alba—both wasted by the way—would fight over this dweeb. A hysterically deadpan Liev Schreiber spoofs his oh-so-serious forensics expert from this past season’s CSI Oliver Platt does a killer Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation and Rob Corddry gives brutal prison sex a kind face. The Ten isn’t exactly the full-fledged State reunion fans are waiting for especially as Thomas Lennon and Michael Ian Black barely make their presence felt. But Kerri Kenny is relentlessly cheerful as a sitcom-ish mom who fails to convince her two black sons that their real dad is the Governator. And an oily Ken Marino quickly loses his smirk once behind bars though he takes his punishment like a real man. David Wain can sleep well at night knowing that The Ten won’t cost him his place in Heaven. While there’s no denying that the Bible-inspired buffoonery on display is irreverent at best Wain and cohort Marino do not take a sledgehammer to the stone tablets. Instead they seem more interested in how the Ten Commandments play a role in our lives regardless of our religious beliefs. That said whatever point they try to make is lost amid the sexual shenanigans. Not that it takes a theologian to deduce that murder is bad stealing is wrong and buying up the town’s supply of CAT scan machines is asking for trouble. By the very nature of its structure The Ten can’t help but unfold as a series of interconnected sketches that sadly lack a punchline. But it’s so goofy and hilariously borderline offense that it’s hard not to be caught up in all the silliness. Indeed Wain’s preoccupation with sex provokes more nervous laughs than groans of disgust. And The Ten offers some side-splitting parodies of family sitcoms prison dramas crime procedure shows and preachy faith-based dramas. There’s even a warning against skipping church on Sundays—and letting it all hang out literally with your buddies—that would turn Homer Simpson into Ned Flanders. Wain orchestrates all this madness in the anything-goes manic style of Airplane! or Scary Movie. The Ten is by no means a minor miracle of the comedy kind but if you accept it for what it is rather than what it tries to be than it’s certainly worth skipping evening services to see.