Thursday, March 1, 2012

Is it a party or a weapon of destruction?

Project X is a bad-taste comedy with energy and anarchy to spare, maybe too much of both.
It doesn’t take much by way of film background to know that movies are caught in a cycle of escalating expectation, not to achieve greater artistic quality but to discover new ways to poke, prod and otherwise bring audiences out of their collective stupor.

Each new horror film must be gorier and more creatively vicious than the last. The next fast-paced thriller must make the last fast-paced thriller seem as if it had been slogging through mud. The same pattern holds for movies about adolescence, which expend tremendous amounts of energy trying to be dopier, raunchier and more superficially transgressive than their predecessors.

It, therefore, should come as no surprise that Project X, a comedy produced by Todd Phillips of Hangover fame and directed by newcomer Nima Nourizadeh, is trying to be the teen party movie to end all teen party movies. If it’s not, I’d hate to see what comes next. Project X is so full of anarchic energy, it practically makes your head spin.

I suppose it’s fair to call Project X a supercharged descendant of Superbad: It's half party movie and half assault on suburban decorum, a teeming comedy that finds a way to include rioting, girls gone topless, drugs, noise, and wall-to-wall music, not to mention a nut job with a flame thrower and a phalanx of police officers.

Here’s the wafer-thin and all-too-familiar premise: Thomas Kub (Thomas Mann) is celebrating his 17th birthday. His parents are leaving town for the weekend. When parents in a teen movie go away for the weekend, you can bet all hell will break loose. Spurred on by his randy pal Costa (Oliver Cooper) and his chubby friend JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown), Thomas agrees to host a house party that’s meant to be a game changer; i.e., it’s supposed to turn three generally anonymous high schoolers into cool kids.

In the hands of these three kids, Thomas’ house party becomes a weapon of mass destruction, which (and I don’t think I’m giving away anything here) ultimately results in the demolition of half his neighborhood, a battle royal staged with choppers from the local news stations circling overhead.

The first half of the movie (maybe more) serves up party-hearty humor with the speed of projectile vomiting -- and no more subtlety. A high point? Consider the angry dwarf who punches taller men in their genitals. Nearly everyone at Thomas’ party looks to be so stoned (on various combinations of alcohol and drugs) that they barely can utter a coherent sentence, which, I suppose, is appropriate because Nourizadeh’s pop-riddled soundtrack may be more important than any dialogue.

Kids jump off the roof of the house into the pool; they do tequila shots; they dance; they abandon the backyard for the forbidden interior of the house; they tie the families Yorkshire terrier to helium balloons and let him float skyward. They hold nothing back as the nervous Thomas, who has been warned by his parents not to wreck the house, gradually gives himself over to the "epic" spirit of an evening that’s destined to go down in North Pasadena history as a volcanic eruption of hormonal insanity.

In the movie’s late stages, the party blows up -- just about literally. The level of chaos becomes so intense that even jaded critics may find themselves watching with a bit of jaw-dropping amazement.

Project X wavers between funny and appalling. Which side you lean toward probably depends on how old you are. And the movie ultimately can’t seem to make up its mind whether it wants to caution against wanton excess or provide non-stop titillation.

Mann does a decent job as Thomas. Thomas' tension: To give into the party impulse with new "hotties" or stick with the girl (Kirby Bliss Blanton) who liked him before he was considered cool.

Say this: Project X -- utilizing the woozy, hand-held approach necessitated by yet another found-footage gimmick -- leaves you wondering whether you’ve witnessed a teen movie or a blow to civilization as we know it. And if you're looking for something that does justice to the adolescent female point-of-view, you'll have to look elsewhere.

I didn’t find Project X especially funny, and I hope that its steaming pile of bad-taste jokes aren't mistaken for anything truly rebellious. I admit to feeling a bit of wide-eyed amazement at the lengths to which Nourizadeh and company go in applying anarchic zeal to every situation, but in the end, an overdose of anarchy is just that -- too damn much.

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