Silver Screen: Project X 1/2*

Silver Screen: Project X  1/2*
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Silver Screen: Project X 1/2*
Bryan Miller

Several unfortunate trends come together in the bizarrely titled Project X, a movie that is not in fact a remake of the similarly titled Matthew Broderick/Helen Hunt movie about saving chimpanzees from the military-industrial complex. Oh, but were it so. It is in fact a teen-party movie soaked in Axe Body Spray and filled with Doctor Pepper Ten and Red Bull. If this movie were a human being, it would lose its date-rape drugs while throwing up in the bushes-- it’s one of the most vile and stupid films in some time.

It doesn't necessarily suffer from its simple premise: Three kids try to boost their popularity at school by throwing a huge party, but the event spins out of control and into epic disaster. Fair enough.

The first problem is that the three kids are astonishingly unlikable. The most sympathetic of the bunch by default is generic nice-guy lead Thomas (Thomas Mann), essentially the Breckin Meyer role, a cipher of a protagonist whose own father crassly dubs him a loser. He's a peach compared to his friends: clueless nerd J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown), who's McLovin' by way of Josh Gad, and the astonishingly grating Costa (Oliver Cooper), a baby-faced loud-mouth whose notion of comic timing is to curse more and louder. It's Costa's idea to throw the party at Thomas's house while his folks are away, and it's Costa's idea to invite hundreds of people and put the address for the party up on Craigslist.

It's nearly impossible not to compare Project X to Superbad, which it so blatantly attempts to ape, not just with its familiar one-crazy-night-at-a-teen-party plotline, but with what screenwriters Michael Bacall and Matt Drake must think is a similar profanity-laced frankness about teen hookups. Trouble is, there's nary a joke to be found in Project X, nor is there a trace of the sweetness that underscored the earlier comedy. To call Cooper a poor man's Jonah Hill would be a disservice to both Jonah Hill and poor men.

As loathsome as the guys are, they're marginally better represented than the girls, who with a single exception (Thomas's inevitable romantic counterpart, played by Kirby Bliss Blanton) are objectified into a single mass of boobs and miniskirts. Not a one of these girls appears to be of high-school age, and in fact no one in the movie outside of the three schlubby leads looks anything like a high schooler. There's no awkwardness, no goofballs, certainly no fatties, no braces or cheap clothes or insecurity. Director Nima Nourizadeh's version of high-school society looks conspicuously like a rave during Fashion Week in Paris. Even as a kind of idealized high-school fantasy, it's both creepy and poorly rendered.

Adding absolutely nothing to the film is the faux found-footage aesthetic, which would be superfluous even if that gimmick hadn't been so brutally overplayed of late. What's more embarrassing is that the home movies of superpowered jackassery in the recent Chronicle were far more credible despite how those characters were using telekinesis-- at least they were actually recognizable as high schoolers while they did it, and had a few decent lines to spout.

There's about ten or fifteen minutes’ worth of entertaining footage in Project X, which comes at the surprisingly wild climax as the party spins totally out of control. These scenes, which play like disaster footage reedited as a music video, are impressively chaotic. That burst of action quickly gives way to a fairly puzzling conclusion that doesn't seem so much like an inversion of the typical moralizing at the end of teen movies as it does a lack of thought to any real consequences. The filmmakers never seem to have thought beyond the basic premise, “What if some kids threw a really huge party?”

Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.