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Jason Wallis Danger, illegal party antics in fun ‘Project X’

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Jason Wallis

Posted: Friday, March 9, 2012 8:10 am

With awards season now well behind us, it is time to start looking ahead to the pre-summer releases (admittedly there aren’t many, since according to the Hollywood calendar summer starts in about six weeks).

I’ll be doing a short preview of the most promising titles next week along with a look at “Silent House” (the Hollywood debut of Elizabeth Olsen, who stunned audiences some months back with a start-making turn in “Martha Marcy May Marlene”), which is my default choice for the week since the other major-release titles are “Salmon Fishing in Yemen” (?!) and “John Carter” — the moniker Disney settled on after “Harold Thompson” and “Eugene Brown” were deemed too flashy.

But for now, let us consider the relative merits of “Project X.”

A lot of people have this weird idea that I’m some kind of film snob because I tend to like good movies as opposed to bad ones, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, when made with wit and imagination and a dash of panache, I find that low-budget and low-brow films can be infinitely more rewarding and inspiring than their more “sophisticated” counterparts. In the end, I’m just looking to be entertained and engaged — whether that entertainment value is derived from a heady and intellectually stimulating treatise on the meaning of life in the universe or from a crude, shoestring-budget romp about the pursuit of beer and loose women, I care not. Show me a good time, and no questions asked.

This is why I’ve been defending “Project X” these past months whenever a friend or colleague got all shocked and indignant upon discovering that I was going to give the movie a fair shake and — gasp! — actually grant it the consideration of a review. And why not? Because it’s a “found footage” comedy about teenagers partying? Because its sense of humor is base and degrading to society as a whole? (Oh noes! For the love of God, will somebody please think of the children?!) Nuts to that. At a time when roughly 97 percent of mainstream movies are assembly-line productions adhering to a rigid template of ineptitude, I’m willing to take a shot with something like “Project X.”

Turns out slightly I misjudged the situation, and the film does in fact kinda suck. I get where it was coming from in attempting to re-create that great “’80s party movie” vibe with a more contemporary style and sense of humor, but in trying to be the end-all-be-all of crazy party flicks, the film often seems like it’s simply trying too hard — like that socially awkward guy you see at a party who’s coming on entirely too strong to everyone he meets in a desperate, last-ditch effort to meet people before inevitably dying alone and afraid. He makes you laugh a few times, but the whole situation is just a tad too pathetic for anything to be truly funny. Yeah, that’s “Project X” in a nutshell.

But, as I said, at least it’s something different. And in all fairness, if you seriously just want to see dangerous and/or illegal party antics going down, the movie does deliver as promised. There’s drunken foolishness, reckless stunts, sexual hijinx and general insanity aplenty — and that’s before a madman with a flame thrower gets thrown into the mix because, hey, why not? Yes, “Project X” does an admirable job of showcasing mayhem, but the problem is, I never really felt “involved.” In utilizing the handheld documentary style, the filmmakers’ intent was to give a first-person perspective of this out-of-control party — to make the viewer feel as though they are one of the thousands of party-goers coming along for a truly wild ride. But the film’s overt “in your face” vibe, coupled with the fact that the three young male leads are presented as being deeply stupid and not particularly likable as people, renders the whole thing rather off-putting, and prevents the viewer from really sharing in the manic energy as intended. Not an epic fail, but definitely a missed opportunity.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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