What began as an innocent attempt to be cool and funny and popular turned into a disaster the likes of which we have never seen. This may seem like the nutshell synopsis of Project X - and it is - but it's also a description of the film itself. It starts off with some promise, some wit, and a nice energy level that might sustain barely ninety minutes. Alas, it does not, as the filmmakers opt to take Project X down a dark path, much too dark for a film marketed as this one has been. It is a high school party film with a mean streak, with disturbing things mistaken for comedy, with a terrible string of messages, and with very little regard for America's youth. On top of everything, it attempts the found footage bit to try and give the film some immediacy, but if you abandon the whole idea half the time what was the point to begin with? As a matter of fact, I asked myself that very thing more times than I should. What's the point?
Three friends have a plan, a plan that will make them popular forever. Well, forever in the meaningless world of high school. The friends are not really that popular or lucky with the ladies, so this birthday party has to be the biggest and baddest party ever. The one having the birthday is Thomas, played with some actual charm by Thomas Mann. His closest friend, Costa (Oliver Cooper), is the man with the plan. Costa is a hybrid of every annoying high school movie friend ever, with a splash of Vince Vaughn at his most grating. Costa has one thing on his mind, getting laid. He is rude and crass and hateful, but at first it's amusing. That doesn't last very long. The third friend is JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown), the chubby friend along for the ride.
Costa sends out mass texts, emails, and even posts invites on craigslist and calls a local radio station to ensure people will show up to the party at Thomas' house (his parents have split town for the weekend). Of course people show up, then more people, then a second DJ, a midget, a few adults, and the party spirals out of control. Saying it spirals out of control, however, is really not the best way to describe it. Anarchy ensues to the point of real danger. A neighbor pleading for the sake of his wife and child is tased and threatened. Teenage girls are nothing but objects swimming topless in the pool. Drugs are introduced, followed by hard drugs, and the events which transpire fly past the line of reality and never look back. If a film is to consider itself "realistic" in the cinematic sense, then it must stay in the realm of reality. If not, if it wants to go totally nuts, it can't pretend to exist in the Suburbia of Southern California. And it most certainly should not employ the documentary-style home video that has become a craze of late.
Using the home-video approach is tricky, because as a filmmaker you are bound to that camera. Sure, director Nima Nourizadeh works around this problem by having a second or third character with a small camera or a camera phone. But occasionally there is no character with a camera, it's just a random scene. And if it were the same person with the camera, it's impossible he could be everywhere he needs to be all the time. It's a poor design. But what bothers me more than any sort of technical failures is the tone, the attitude, and the message of Project X.
This is a film about teenagers. I had to remind myself of this at every turn, because the filmmakers - and producer Todd Phillips - turn this into an extended episode of Girls Gone Wild with ecstasy pills and a maniac with a flame thrower thrown in for good measure. The movie grows increasingly hateful, taking a real turn after the scene with the father being tased on the porch. What began as funny and witty erases everything with a dark look at teens doing drugs, vomiting, destroying, burning, and eventually rioting. And then, when all is said and done, after these kids have ruined their future and are facing charges that could stop all future plans, all they really care about is how awesome the party was? The swelling moment at the end is them being recognized at school? What a shallow finale to a shallow and hateful film.