Collin's been a movie critic since 2009. In real life he works in marketing and is also a novelist ("Good Riddance" published in Oct 2015).
Take a couple of bankable stars, a directing duo whose last effort came out of nowhere to be considerably above average, and a premise that (at least on paper) has a decent amount of promise, and it would be hard to swing and miss, right? Netflix’s latest “original film” Project Power, however, does all it can to squander its parts to wind up as a fun-in-the-moment flick that unfortunately has all the shelf life of a ripe avocado.
Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt lead the way in the sound-and-fury-filled romp from the directing team of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (aka Henry & Rel), whose gonzo 2016 film Nerve followed a similar formula but, in comparison, feels light years ahead of what we get here.
As for Project Power’s premise, scripter Mattson Tomlin (Solomon Grundy) deserves at least a few Brownie points for the wild ride that is set up in the first ten minutes of the film. There’s a new drug on the streets of New Orleans, a synthetic in pill form, which, when popped, gives the user a random superpower, though only for five minutes at a time. You might become invisible, bulletproof, or a walking human torch, or you might just be killed instantly—you won’t know until you try it.
Gordon-Levitt is Frank, a Crescent City cop who is not only fighting the drug’s proliferation but also using it himself (if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, amiright?). He’s got a contact on the inside, in the form of Robin (Dominique Fishback), a young dealer who is getting Frank closer and closer to Biggie (Rodrigo Santoro), the head of the supply chain. Meanwhile, Art (Foxx) is on his own hunt for Biggie after the bad guy’s henchmen kidnapped his daughter Tracy (Kyanna Simpson). Frank doesn’t trust Art, Robin doesn’t know who to believe, and Art just wants to cut through the noise and get his kid back.
While Project Power does seem to have a catchy (if wildly implausible) set-up, it doesn’t take long for plot holes and inconsistencies to start rearing their ugly heads, undermining the film just as it gets going. Early on, for example, a 911-call montage reveals exactly how prevalent the drug is on New Orleans streets, but just as quickly, things seem to get back to an acceptable level of normal, and only a couple bad apples here and there are using. (When’s the last time that happened in the war on drugs?) Heck, if all you had to do was take a pill to become invisible, wouldn’t you rob a few banks?
Henry & Rel continue their stylized, almost Michael Bay-esque, ways in Project Power, flooding the screen with rain-soaked streets reflecting neon street signs, low-angle shots of imposing baddies, and generous amounts of almost cartoonish carnage. What they can’t seem to do, though, is make the story coherent enough for us to care. Characters pop in and out with no explanation, a promising human experimentation sub-plot is dangled and never pursued, and there’s the whole motivation (or lack thereof) of the nefarious villains. Are they in it for money? Power? Control? Or do they just enjoy fiddling while Rome burns?
Foxx, JGL, and Fishback all hold up their end of the bargain, trying their darndest to keep the film sputtering along, but in the end, it’s just not enough. Project Power may be slick to watch, and it might get your pulse bumping for an hour or so, but it winds up feeling like little more than a so-so trip—with all the side effects of a decent cup of coffee.