A character in Project X touts the onscreen house party as the most epic one of all time. There’s no doubting that. Filmmaker Nima Nourizadeh and screenwriters Michael Bacall and Matt Drake have conceived the most monumental scenes of suburban destruction that you’ll see outside of a Michael Bay film. The debauchery in this Todd Phillips-produced project, which was kept weirdly secretive under production and cast with mostly unknowns, reaches staggering heights. So in that sense the movie, shot as a faux-documentary, achieves what appears to be its only goal.
That doesn’t mean it’s any good, though. In fact, Project X is terrible, a laugh-free experience about repulsive morons who behave moronically and are pretty much rewarded for it. It’s Superbad without the heart, or the quality acting, a mean-spirited affair in every sense. Sure, it’s sort of fun to see just how outrageous things get when outcast high school buddies Thomas (Thomas Mann), Costa (Oliver Cooper), and JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown) plan an enormous party at Thomas’s house so they can get laid. But after awhile, a film has to offer more than sheer uninhibited spectacle. With its endless montages of hot girls making out and gyrating, ala a risqué beer commercial, the movie offers a warped and exceptionally tedious depiction of a high school party, one clearly conceived by men who have never actually attended one.
A successful black comedy needs a structure, flawed characters, a ribald spirit, and a plot that raises the stakes by propelling the protagonists through an array of humorous troubles. Bad Santa had what it took. So did Phillips’ The Hangover. Project X flops, principally because its characters basically have a great time partying. There’s no real danger, or regret, just bacchanal.
Superbad used the same deep-rooted teenage horniness that drives Project X to send its characters on a journey full of troubles, in which they fought, clawed and struggled to get the female attention they desired. Their thought process — “get girls drunk and they’ll definitely sleep with us” — was flawed and misogynistic, of course, but you understood where it came from and enjoyed watching the struggle. In Project X, the characters get what they want so easily that they come across as lecherous, contemptible creeps.
It’s hard to fathom why anyone would waste their time watching a movie about other people partying, particularly when the spectacle of the party is the sole focus of the production, not the characters experiencing it or the lessons learned from it. The Bay comparison is apt — if the Transformers helmer made a picture about a high school party, it’d probably look a lot like this. At the same time, it’s even harder to comprehend why the movies’ male filmmakers thought they’d get away with a movie that, with one slight exception, presents women as a faceless sexed-up horde, there for the taking by nerdy, far less attractive teens. Come on guys — it’s 2012.
The Upside: The party achieves some impressively destructive heights. Crazy stuff definitely happens.
The Downside: No real story or structure, despicable characters, sexism, laugh-free, etc. etc.
On the Side: To be fair, in the interest of full disclosure, I did laugh once…at an out-of-left field gag involving a dog and a bunch of balloons.