Project Almanac (2014) / Sci Fi-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some language and sexual content.
Running Time: 106 min.
Cast: Jonny Weston, Sofia Black-D'Elia, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, Amy Landecker, Gary Weeks
Small role: Imagine Dragons
Director: Dean Israelite
Screenplay: Andrew Stark, Jason Pagan
Review published January 31, 2015
The found-footage premise is mighty musty by this point, but I'll at least give the filmmakers a teensy amount of credit for finding a plausible reason narratively for its inclusion. What I wish could be done better is to have a believable use of the thing when it is implemented, as this is one video camera that never needs a battery charge (even after filming nonstop for what seems like countless hours, and another one that sits for years unused), never runs out of memory, and that someone has edited down to under two hours in length (adding music montages, no less), even though no one is shown editing it. And yet, some of the things this mystery editor keeps in includes boring stuff that has no practical relevance. Then there's the problem with the fact that the camera "cheats" by occasionally changing perspectives, which has become an increasingly prominent problem in the subgenre over the years.
That said, Project Almanac isn't half bad half of the time, with an interesting time-travel hook that manages to dabble in a few nifty concepts, including whether re-rolling the dice of one's life is something that's actually advantageous to do. For every positive effect one might try to have, the potential 'ripple effect' to negatively impact it in other ways is always a risk (it cribs a bit from The Butterfly Effect in this regard). Carrying the knowledge of what one has lost after each jump is a burden that sometimes supersedes whatever one has garnered, it can become an exercise in trying to fine-tune one's past to the point of utter meaninglessness.
David (Weston, Taken 3) is a genius-level high-school senior looking to shoot video of his prowess as an inventor to submit with his application to MIT. He stumbles upon a video camera in his attic that contains footage of the seventh birthday party - a fateful day, since it was also the day he lost his father in a car accident - and sees his 17-year-old self reflected in one of the household mirrors -- an impossibility, unless one factors in the invention of a time machine(!). Knowing his father (Weeks, Ride Along) was also a genius inventor, David and his friends unlock the lab in the basement he would work in and find the plans and parts of the time machine's construction he had been working on.
This is a Michael Bay (Ouija, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) production, but not a bad one. Sure, there is a bit of an emphasis on special effects, and, yes, there are gratuitously lurid shots that linger of hot teenage girls in short shorts (one senses that Bay decided to handle directorial duties on the day of the water-slide shoot), but at least there is something that one can actually follow underneath the eye-candy theatrics. It also contains the Bay trop of how the image of being cool is always better than being honest, as David and co. soon learn that using the time machine to be 'The Man' in the eyes of their peers is far more preferable to actually acceptance of themselves for who they truly are.
The plot will remind some of the Back to the Future series and its continuous time jumps to try to affect the present-day (whatever that means anymore). Except here, they aren't exactly trying to save themselves from obsolescence to much as try to do 'cool' things that teenagers might want to do, like win the lottery (the minimum age is 18, so their sharing of the prize seems disingenuous), become the stars at the last Lollapalooza (probably the film's best sequence), and try to ace the class they're flunking now that they have the hindsight to know what's on the quiz. This is, after all, a generation whose clout is built on 'likes' and 'selfies', so their quest for popularity and acceptance by their peers is understandably the most prominent thing on their minds.
Obviously, any movie involving time-travel will be a headache to try to dissect, and Project Almanac is one that probably takes more liberties than most in hashing out the logic, not the least of which is the fact that David's discovery of his time-jump in the birthday party footage means that his present-day reality is actually an alternate reality he has changed by the initial time jump, which makes little sense to his opinions later in the film.
The cast of young actors perform well together, even though their characters aren't richly defined, somewhat reminiscent of an older version of the kids we find in Earth to Echo. Project Almanac is a couple of ticks more entertaining than that flick, so I'm giving it a recommendation as an effective time travel movie for current MTV-generation teenage audiences meant purely as an escapist lark rather than something to ponder and pour over for hours as to its logic (if you're bothered by contradictory plot holes, you can skip this, and pretty much any time-travel film, entirely).
Now, if only someone would build a time machine and stop The Blair Witch Project from being made, so that we might avoid the the eventual over-use of gimmick (really, people, it has been going on for nearly sixteen years -- enough!) , we'd all find it something worth altering reality for.
©2015 Vince Leo