Sunday, February 1, 2015

Review: Project Almanac (2015)

Project Almanac (2015)

Rated PG-13 for some language and sexual content

Fun fact: Project Almanac was originally going to be released last year, under a completely different title. Originally known as simply Almanac, then Welcome to Yesterday, it was supposed to come out February 28, 2014 before getting delayed just three weeks before its planned release date. Ostensibly, this was so that Paramount could partner with MTV Films in promoting the film, and to allow producer Michael Bay to devote more attention to the film after wrapping up the godawful Transformers: Age of Extinction. Me? I suspect that Paramount thought that the film was in no shape to be released in its then-current form and desperately needed rewrites and reshoots, just about the only explanation I could think of for why they'd shelve a low-budget teen sci-fi flick for nearly a year. That said, teen movies that get released in the traditional "dump months" of January and February are often among the only decent non-Oscar films out during that time, as evidenced by the surprisingly awesome Chronicle back in 2012. So despite middling reviews, I took a dive. What did I think?

Well, it's not as terrible as it could've been. In fact, I'd say it's pretty good. It's nowhere near as good as Chronicle, and the plot grows much too convoluted by the end as it riffs on far better time travel stories, but for a film that was thrown out into theaters to act as counter-programming for teens who couldn't care less about football, it's an alright sci-fi romp that's elevated by some interesting characters.

Project Almanac is about David, a bright teenage boy applying to MIT who's distraught that, despite being accepted, the scholarship they're offering isn't nearly enough for his family to cover the cost of admission. Then he, his sister Christina, and his friends Quinn and Adam make an unbelievable discovery: schematics for a time machine developed by his father, who had died when David and Christina were little. Assembling the time machine, they, together with the popular girl Jessie who stumbled upon their plan (and who David has a crush on), use the time machine to win the lottery, get revenge on mean classmates, attend Lollapalooza, correct mistakes that they'd made in the recent past, and otherwise behave exactly like you'd expect teenagers to act when given access to time travel. This is probably the best part of the film, as it makes no bones about the fact that its main characters, no matter how academically gifted they may be, are all horribly immature, with David perhaps the worst of all of them despite his brilliance. This grounding of the characters in some measure of reality, combined with the fact that the unknown actors playing them were all surprisingly good, helped get me invested in all of them. It felt like a modern-day version of the '80s comedy Weird Science, fully embracing the craziness of the situation.

However, when David starts using the time machine to build himself a relationship with Jessie, the butterflies start to pile up, resulting in tragedy. This is the part of the film where it starts going off the rails. I liked the basic idea of it, in that the main characters' antics wind up having consequences, yet the way it plays out is a very mixed bag. Quinn, Adam, and Christina are effectively sidelined during the third act so that the story can focus on David and Jessie, their stories getting no resolution as the film winds to a close, while all manner of plot threads are left dangling. After a certain point, it became clear that David is the only character in the film who matters, and unfortunately, this started to happen just as I began losing interest in him, his story turning into a retread of any number of "time travel gone wrong" Twilight Zone episodes. I didn't feel the desperation he had in trying to fix what he had screwed up, and his final scene reached for an emotional heft that the film never earned.

You may notice that I've gone this entire review without even mentioning the found-footage angle, and that's because it barely serves a purpose outside of a few scenes at the beginning and end. All I can really say about it is that it's there, never really intruding on the film but never elevating it either, much like in last year's Into the Storm. Also much like in that film, Project Almanac cheats at times by showing scenes that are clearly not taken from a character's handheld camera, showing that, to a degree, the filmmakers must have seen the style as something of a constraint. It's half-hearted use of found footage as a gimmick that gives the style a bad name, and this film stands as a shining example of that.

Score: 3 out of 5

An alright diversion that loses its way in the third act, Project Almanac is one of those films where waiting for a matinee or Redbox is probably the best course of action. Solid production values and a good cast, as well as a very enjoyable first hour or so (before it ran out of ideas), helped save it from being a waste of my time, though.

1 comment:

  1. I thought the movie was good, it was entertaining to watch at first, but then it grew to be very repetitive and boring.