"Project X" suggests what it might look like if the teen romp "Superbad" had been shot with the first-person, hand-held aesthetic of "Cloverfield" -- except it never achieves the hilarity of the former or the thrills of the latter.
It's mainly an excuse to show hot, young women cavorting drunk and topless -- in a swimming pool, in a bouncy house, with a dog, with each other -- in music-video style montages edited to the insistent thump of house music. So if you ever wanted to see "Girls Gone Wild" blown up on the big screen, well then, hooray for you. This is your lucky day.
But the feature debut from Nima Nourizadeh, directing from a script by Michael Bacall ("Scott Pilgrim vs. the World") and Matt Drake, does indeed have some semblance of a plot, flimsy though it may be. (Todd Phillips, director of the "Hangover" movies, is one of the film's producers.)
Shy, sweet-faced Thomas (Thomas Mann) is turning 17, and his fast-talking, super-confident best friend Costa (Oliver Costa) insists that they need to throw the mother of all ragers at his Pasadena home to celebrate. It will make them popular, Costa promises -- and more importantly, it will get them laid. Tagging along is their nerdy, awkward pal J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown), who thinks he's more sophisticated than he really is. So if you're keeping score at home, Thomas is the Michael Cera figure, Costa is Jonah Hill and J.B. is Christopher Mintz-Plasse.
Thomas' parents just happen to be going out of town for their wedding anniversary, and they don't even begin to suspect that Thomas and his friends have the potential for hedonism. But they do, and they've enlisted the mostly unseen (and undeveloped) Dax (Dax Flame) to videotape everything. Although, like the recent "Chronicle," which also was based on the well-worn found-footage concept, "Project X" eventually must rely on other sources and perspectives.
Things spiral out of control pretty quickly as a couple thousand people show up and trash the place, which admittedly does get amusing and provides an escalating energy. Costa's nearly incessant chatter offers consistent laughs, although it's clear pretty quickly that he (like the film itself) is woefully one-note. There's a cute subplot involving the scrawny 12-year-olds Costa has hired as security guards and the run-ins they have with Thomas' annoyed neighbors.
But only about an hour in, "Project X" grows repetitive and starts running out of steam, and you begin to wonder what could possibly occur over the remaining 30 minutes or so. And not to get all mom-ish, but it does send a disturbing message to teens under the guise of "edgy" entertainment. If you provide a setting and the means for strangers to get hammered, it will make you cool. If you are a young woman who wants approval, you must get naked and give up the goods.
The one girl who gets the benefit of any sort of characterization is Thomas' childhood friend Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton), who has tomboyish, girl-next-door cool as well as blonde, Blake Lively-esque good looks. She's just part of the elaborate fantasy that the film's target audience will gladly buy into without question.
"Project X," a Warner Bros. release, is rated R for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, drugs, drinking, pervasive language, reckless behavior and mayhem -- all involving teens. Running time: 88 minutes. Two stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G -- General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG -- Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 -- Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R -- Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 -- No one under 17 admitted.