Like a short-sighted high schooler who thinks his entire life will change if he gets the girl, Project X is in dogged pursuit of a single goal: to film the wildest, most debauched party of all time. It succeeds at this by throwing pretty much everything at the wall, from a violent midget to a mounted policeman to a bevy of naked chicks, and by ignoring all the rules of storytelling, logic or even comedy that might hold it all together. With no narrative drive, characters to care about or stakes of any kind, Project X is so busy celebrating its own debauchery it never manages to make any of it look very fun or exciting. Who knew kids these days could be both so uninhibited and so boring?
The film's two leads, Thomas Mann as the string-bean loser Thomas Kub and Oliver Cooper as his sex-obsessed outgoing friend Costa, are especially familiar if you fondly remember string-bean Michael Cera and sex-obsessed Jonah Hill from Superbad-- but it's best not to think about those two, since you'll miss them badly throughout Project X. Thomas wants to throw a party while his parents go out of town, and Costa continually makes it bigger, inviting the entire school, scoring weed from an unstable dealer, renting a bouncy castle and two DJs, and hiring mostly silent AV nerd Dax (Dax Flame) to film the whole thing. Yes, this is another found-footage movie, though Project X uses that as more of a guideline than a straightforward rule. There's something interesting about the fact that this generation of teenagers film and photograph each other constantly, but Project X frequently ditches the found-footage logic for no reason, opting for convenience over anything that resembles authenticity.
Obviously Project X takes place in a fantasy version of high school, where every single girl is model-hot and willing to get with our gawky leads, a party can expand to over 1,000 people without immediate police intervention, and somehow even when the party goes disastrously awry, everything turns out OK in the end. But for all the time screenwriters Matt Drake and Michael Bacall spend dreaming up crazy things to happen at the party-- a garden gnome full of ecstasy pills, a dog tied to a bunch of balloons and floating away, someone swinging on the chandelier-- they never give anything realistic stakes. There's a rote potential romance between Thomas and his hot childhood friend Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton), and the vague assumption that this movie will give Thomas the popularity he dreams of, but none of it feels as important as the next crazy gag. With the sense that anything is possible at this party, it's hard to invest in any of the drama or suspense-- it's like a song played at maximum volume that's nothing but a pounding bass beat.
Cooper brings some swagger to the poorly written Costa role, but the other newcomer actors are pretty blank, reminding you just how much crass adventures like producer Todd Phillips' own The Hangover or Superbad relied on actor charisma to hold it all together. Director Nima Nourizadeh brings a sleek, hollow style to the whole thing, meaning the teenagers who sneak into this R-rated film for the boobs and vicarious thrill will get what they're looking for. But if you've ever been to any good party-- a booze-soaked throwdown or a church social or a dinner party-- you'll know Project X is missing the actual element of fun that makes parties worthwhile. It's a spectacle, sure, but not a party you'd ever actually want to attend.
Reviewed By: Katey Rich