It takes a lot to actually get me mad while watching a movie. Only a few, including “The Passion of the Christ” and the 2009 remake of “Last House on the Left” have left that much of a profound, infuriating impression on me. Usually bad movies just disappear like vapor to be replaced by ones that are worth remembering.
Then I saw “Project X.”
Here is a disclaimer: I get annoyed when film critics get pious. Usually critics who get all flustered over a movie’s allegedly compromised moral compass are overreacting (the controversy over Hit Girl in 2010’s wildly overrated”Kick-Ass” being a recent example). But sometimes, those criticisms are necessary. Movies are entertainment, so it takes a lot of illicit material to get to the level of possibly being “objectable.” Especially when a lot of great movies revolve around murderers. But it is a problem when movies blatantly glorify horrible behavior, which is one of many problems with “Project X.” Because even if you don’t mind underage kids destroying property, cruelly bullying their peers and destroying property all in the quest of “being cool,” then you may mind the fact that this movie is character-free, monotonous and painfully lacking in anything close to real laughs.
“Project X,” which was written by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall and directed by Nima Nourizadeh, is yet another example of the “found footage” trope, and focuses on three high school losers, Thomas (Thomas Mann), Costa (Oliver Cooper), and JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown), and their mysterious camera-wielding comrade Dax (Dax Flame). It’s Thomas’ 17th birthday, and Costa decides to plan the mother of all parties for him at his spacious house while his parents are away for the night. But since these three aren’t the least bit popular, nobody at their school even knows who they are, let alone wants to party with them. Also Thomas is hesitant to have such a massive celebration, since…the script needs him to be reluctant. But Costa (more on him later) convinces him otherwise, since “getting laid” is the most important thing in the history of the world, so they procure some alcohol and for some reason just about everyone in their county decides to attend this party, and the movie chronicles how it spun completely out of control.
That is the entire movie in a severely lacking nutshell. The lack of any kind of depth keeps this movie from moving past its found-footage gimmick. All we see for the next 80 minutes is people we are not invested in at all partying and acting like idiots. There are plenty of movies revolving around a single party that are interesting, but that’s because they have characters, with histories, problems and goals to carry us through. “Project X” couldn’t be bothered with things like stakes or character development.
That is due to the fact that Thomas, Costa and JB are not people; they’re types. Thomas is the shy, nerdy protagonist. That’s all we ever learn about him. JB is the obligatory “fat kid.” We get even less about him, because physical appearance is always more interesting than traits or goals or any of that boring stuff. That leaves us with Costa, who is set up as the movie’s wise-cracking, lecherous comic relief. The good news is, we do get a lot of time with Costa. The bad news? Costa is one of the most hateful, irritating and obnoxious characters I’ve ever encounted in any medium, let alone movies. He treats women like garbage (he thinks they like being referred to as “mommies”), he constantly bullies JB for being overweight, and considers people who don’t drink or act like idiots as “faggots.” He thinks being considered cool in high school and getting laid are the two most important things in life. If the movie realized how much of an asshole Costa it would’ve been tolerable, but “Project X” is so convinced that Costa is hilarious and that he is endearing is a catastrophic mis-calibration of a character. We all knew douchebags like Costa in high school. Who in God’s name would want to sit through an 85 minute movie about them?
In fact “Project X”‘s biggest problem is that the entire movie takes on the attitude of Costa; it is so convinced that the explosive party is the greatest thing ever, and goals in life, such as making your parents proud or going to college, are not nearly as important as making the people in your high school, who are just as superficial and immature as you are and 90 percent of whom you will never see again after graduation, think you’re cool and want to have sex with you. And all of the female things (I call them things, because none of the women in “Project X” are considered actual people) in the movie exist to take their clothes off, get drunk and do any hard drugs that are available. There are stretches of the movie where there is no dialogue, it’s just endless montages of loud music and people drinking and dancing. Watching other people partying isn’t entertainment; you wouldn’t pay to watch someone else ride a roller coaster would you?
But what truly makes “Project X” infuriating is its attitude towards the illicit behavior; it glorifies things that in the environment of 17-year-old high school students, are not hilarious; they speak toward problems with the whole generation. When a garden gnome is smashed open revealing hundreds of ecstasy pills, we see everyone at the party flocking to them like . There is nothing humorous about what are essentially children downing hard drugs like candy. these kids downing pills, alcohol and destroying any property they can get their hands on all in the name of “coolness.” These scenes feel like they were pulled from an HBO documentary, meant to shock and alarm; to find them in a comedy is (to me at least) troubling. The film also has a horrible mean streak, with its objectification of women and hateful attitude to anyone who is different in anyway. Bullying is an epidemic in middle and high schools, and the idea of a movie having one of it’s main characters, who is not meant to be a villain in any way, bully people so brazenly is downright galling and shameful. This movie is sorely lacking in the self-awareness necessary to make these elements work in this context. It’s in these elements that one can see what “Project X” should’ve been: I think it would work perfectly as a dark comedy that satirizes the immaturity of high-schoolers while at the same time exposing the increased focus on the hedonism of this current generation of teenagers. But the people who made “Project X” probably couldn’t spell “satire” if you gave them all the letters except for “s.”
So as the destruction and mayhem culminates in a fiery climax and Thomas’ plans for college are jeopardized by his furious parents, is he upset and sorry for this party? No, because in the universe of this movie, college is for people who don’t care about being cool in high school. Pretty enlightening stuff.
Perhaps I’m overreacting. There is nothing wrong with watching “Project X” and not being rubbed the wrong way by the consequence-less drug abuse, injuries and destroying of property for no reason. This is all just subjective speculation. But that doesn’t excuse “Project X” for being cruel, misguided and painfully unfunny. That’s the biggest buzzkill of all.