“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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The story is a simple one: once every generation there is a Chosen One (Steve Oedekerk) whose task it is to fight evil. This Chosen One though is also out to avenge the wanton slaughter of his family at the hands of the despicable Master Pain who later inexplicably changes his name to Betty. On the road to conquering evil and figuring out his "true destiny " the Chosen One battles a Matrix-empowered cow and the evil council which is made up entirely of French aliens in pyramid-shaped spaceships. He receives help from the kindly Master Tang his daughter and the karate queen Whoa who has but a single large boob.
There's not much acting going on here at all; when the live action is inserted all we have is Oedekerk's over-the-top mugging or some silly henchman dancing in the background. (The real actors from the '70s movie he ripped off don't count--they're meant to be the dull foil to Oedekerk's razor-sharp wit.) At least Oedekerk looks the part of a martial arts expert. The dialogue is supposed to be the key and we are supposed to be amused by the different accents given to the random verbiage but none of it really makes any sense nor does it make us laugh. The cow though was fabulous.
If you're anything like my friends and me you've done this before--and probably with more laughs than this movie gets. You're watching a really bad '70s chop-socky film with the volume turned off and you and your buddies give the players on the screen dialogue that doesn't fit the situation. That's all Oedekerk (Nutty Professor II: The Klumps) Patch Adams) has done although he's also added in live-action fantasy sequences that we as technically challenged teens couldn't without our own film studio. Nor is Oedekerk's idea particularly imaginative: the Sci-Fi channel's Mystery Science Theater 3000 series did this with much funnier effect and greater success.