Project Power review – a fun superhero flick, but lacking in power

Project Power review

Starring Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback, Rodrigo Santoro, Colson Baker. Directed by Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman.

Since their debut directing duo, Ariel Shulman and Henry Joost have set about making films together that aim for something they simply cannot seem to achieve.

With Project Power, Shulman and Joost weave a superhero noir story that sees a drug dealer, a former military Major and a suspended cop team up to uncover an ongoing conspiracy, after the appearance of drugs on the street that can turn you into a superhero for five minutes.

Project Power is not wanting for ideas; in the ongoing world of massive superhero blockbusters there’s always room for a new angle, and the subversive ones always prove popular. What this could have been is a superhero Chinatown, a noir mystery about the higher-ups and the lower downs that weaves people into a mass conspiracy. Sadly, poor writing from Mattson Tomlin lets everyone else done.

Shulman and Joost famously made their debut with the documentary (or was it?) Catfish, and followed up with Paranormal Activity 3 and Paranormal Activity 4, after which they gave the double whammy of the weird virus-based horror of Viral and the more fun paranoia fo Nerve. For Tomlinson this is his first made script, the pending Little Fish and The Batman might prove he works better with someone else, but his original idea is full of potential he doesn’t mine.

The characters are thinly written. Jamie Foxx, a man with charisma to spare, is given the one-note role of former military guy Art, a mysterious quiet type who wants to find his daughter, taken by a secret organisation looking to make drugs that augment human biology. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is unfortunately saddled with the cop role, a drug-taking type who flaunts the rules, which in a Black Lives Matter-aware society probably won’t go down too well. It’s Dominique Fishback, last seen in the brilliant The Hate U Give, that shines as drug dealing wannabe rapper Robin. 

Jamie Foxx in Project Power

Jamie Foxx in Project Power.

The script gives only the smallest of tidbits to a possible social setting. It being set in New Orleans means there’s some mentions of economic hardship but not really, it’s hinted the police could be in the pocket of something worse. The film flirts with great ideas, but never examines them, in fact one subplot that actively invokes Henrietta Lacks, and this idea of the greater good, and human augmentation, but then does nothing with it again.

That said, there are good ideas, amplifying the natural abilities of certain animals to make a human being better is very interesting and leads to some fun reveals. Plus, Joost and Shulman have an eye for how to deal with their visual effects, a sequence where a flaming Machine Gun Kelly fights Foxx is particularly well done, and shows the world how The Human Torch should be done in the future, plus a fight scene staged in the backdrop of a woman succumbing to her newfound ice powers is haunting.

There’s also a fun visual idea that the effects of the superpowers leave lasting effects, Machine Gun Kelly is left charred and burned up from his drug use, and a flabby skinned Rodrigo Sontoro shows us how he goes to saggy in fun fashion. 

The film, again, isn’t wanting for ideas and at times the dialogue pops, a discussion about Clint Eastwood leads to a fun The Bridges of Maddison County reference, and there’s some witty banter thanks mostly to Fishback, though the sight of Gordon-Levitt in a towel is also a highlight.

Much like The Old Guard, this could merely be a beginning, if it proves popular a sequel could be on the horizon and that might make for a more fun superhero movie, but as it stands Project Power lacks much in the of projection, and certainly no power.

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