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I am Salty The Beast. I am what you might call a Renaissance man, meaning I find interest in most every medium. I love watching movies, listening to music, writing music, playing video games, making videos, etc.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Project X



"Project X" marks the first found-footage film to come out since "Chronicle" was released in early February, and I don't think I am overexaggerating when I say that the final twenty-five minutes of "Project X" reach equal, if not greater, levels of insanity, implausibility, property damage, mass destruction and reparation costs. I might sooner believe a disturbed teenager with telekinetic abilities was carrying out an assault on the city than some of the events that happen in the final third of this film. The kicker: while "Chronicle" was deeply rooted in science fiction and superhero origin mythology, "Project X" ain't nothing but an R-rated teen sex comedy.

Advertised as "Like 'Superbad' On Crack," the film captures all the debauchery and hectic goings-on that happen on one night to a handful of teenagers, mostly seniors in high school. Project X is the codename given to the operation devised by a horny, foul-mouthed teen named Costa (Oliver Cooper) to ensure that his best bud, the shy and unpopular Thomas (Thomas Mann) has the wildest, most talked-about 17th birthday party in the history of mankind. The conditions are perfect: his parents' anniversary is coincidentally on the same weekend. While the rents are away, Thomas has the entire house all to himself. Everyone can get sloshed, stoned n' sexed on Friday night, the clean-up process could begin on Saturday, and the place could look good as new on Sunday evening when mom and dad return.


It starts as a not-quite-civilized soiree, but an acceptably contained party at Thomas's place with music, booze, presumably underage ladies and creepy older gentlemen with outdated moustaches hoping to piggyback on the younger kids’ fun. But the crowd soon becomes so voluminous that it drunkenly cascades into the suburban streets. By the end, the entire block is plunged in a nigh untenable conflagration, drowning in an endless soup of their own hedonistic excess. Riots in the streets, mass perplexity and all that jive. And what better music to usher in the Armageddon than “Battery” by Metallica? It becomes less like the average kegger and more like the apocalyptic visions suggested in the Book of Revelation.

Similar to "Superbad," Thomas and Costa, along with chubby sidemember J.B. and cameraperson Dax (Jonathan Daniel Brown and Dax Flame, respectively), are determined to poke their heads in just about all things wicked and decadent on this one night. This is their one opportunity to hang up their reputations as high school losers and become the cool kids by consuming a crapton of beer and getting with the girls they would have never ever had a shot at otherwise. Even the characters for the most part resemble the personalities of the kids in “Superbad.” There is the skinny, hesitant and abundantly unexperienced one like Evan, the obnoxious one who is obligated to include anatomical slang in every sentence that comes out of his mouth like Seth, and there is essentially a pudgier version of McLovin (though I would say he is not quite as memorable as that character). The problem is that comparing it to “Superbad” reinforces just how much more unspectacular and inferior “Project X” is by comparison. “Superbad” was a perfect movie in my opinion: hilarious, outrageous and ribald at a nearly NC-17 level, but also very smart, endearing, confident and full of insight into friendships and the psyche of a high-school male.

Never has a movie been so aggressively polarizing to my personal tastes. You see, I myself am a freshman in college, so I am forced against my will to endure people like this everyday. Just in case I ever need a harrowing reminder that my generation is the one that made a number one hit out of a song titled “Sexy And I Know It,” I hardly have to pivot my head in any particular direction to find some overly confident, radically heterosexual, beer swilling, weight lifting, Dave Matthews-listening “bro”  telling me what a...let’s say “kitty cat,” I am for not being cut from the same cloth as them or their frat boy brethren. I go to the movies to escape from my woebegone reality, not to have it be pushed right in my face to have me scrutinize it down to every minute detail.

There are so many things I absolutely hated about this movie. I hated the shallowness. I hated the hollowness of anything resembling importance. I hated the vulgar flatness of the humor. I can generally take characters being driven by an irrepressible lust for life, but I hated the fact that the main characters basically did everything solely for social acceptance. I hated the conceit that the filmmakers could get by passing a documented teenage rave off as a legit film, because the whole practice is like watching somebody else play the greatest video game in the whole world, but the player won’t take his grubby mitts off the controller and allow someone else to play. And most of all, I hated with all my heart that sweatervest-clad douche Costa, whom I desperately longed to bash in the nose every time he appeared on the screen. I did appreciate, however, a moment in one scene when he is dealing with two police officers who arrive in response to a noise complaint. From experience, I have observed that you are not in the company of a responsible, virtuous human being if they feel the need to include the phrase ‘and a half’ to the end of their age.

Yet even with all my negative feelings toward the film building up at an unnaturally fast velocity, the film narrowly balances itself in the third act as it descends into utter madness. While the first hour is douchebag central as we are vicariously living a party through the eyes of a bunch of irredeemable teens as they drink, take a variety of entactogenic drugs, have sex, blast music and flip the bird at authority of any kind (all through the magic of montage, mind you), the last half hour pulls a few interesting punches. The three protagonists are in way over their heads, and the consequences reach all-new records of dizzying heights. Unlike many other teen comedies, there actually ARE consequences. And, you know, I kinda enjoyed that these people I disliked all the way through finally got a comeuppance. To me, “Project X”  evolves (or perhaps devolves) into less of a broad comedy and more of a sad reflection on party culture in general, or at the very least, a cautionary tale about over-doing it. Then again, people in my theater sounded like they were gearing up to throw a party of this magnitude. And I’m scratching my head.

That is precisely what I fear most about the film: it can reinforce the mindset of BOTH the party animals and the non-party animals alike. And just so we’re clear, contrary to what you may be thinking based on the previous paragraphs, I myself am not Mr. Elitist McAnti-Partypants; I just prefer people to not make partying (and everything it entails) their life’s legacy. The producer Todd Phillips, who hit paydirt with 2009’s delightfully raucous hit “The Hangover,” is obviously well-versed on the subject of parties and can usually make great movies with his knowledge, but this is a difficult one to digest thanks to a story and screenplay by Michael Bacall. I do not know the ultimate message that “Project X” sends out there, but it sure is a misguided one. Perhaps this is another situation like “Borat,” whose incredibly bold and biting statements about American xenophobia, social awkwardness towards foreigners and the struggle to sustain tolerance toward another nation’s cultures and traditions went over the heads of those who loved it solely for the gross-out humor.

So I've come to a verdict of two stars. It is a compromise between zero stars and four stars. On one end, there are some interesting truths to be found if you look closely enough, or rather, take a step back to observe the big picture like with the Seurat painting “A Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte.” On the other, more deceitful hand, this is an insufferable experience chock-full of homophobic jabs, mean-spirited gags and an air of pointlessness surrounding it all. Based on that information, you can pick your poison, both of which are spiked with vodka. If your insides start to feel funny, drop some X.

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