Directors: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Writer: Mattson Tomlin
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback
Genre: Action / Thriller
When a pill that gives its users unpredictable superpowers for five minutes becomes available on the streets of New Orleans, a teenage drug dealer (Fishback), a local cop (Gordon-Levitt) and an ex-soldier (Foxx) team up to take down the mysterious group responsible before they develop the technology even more.
For as long as I can remember, a common question that has been asked in conversation between people has been the classic “if you could choose one superpower, what would it be and why?”, and it can provoke very interesting, provocative and lengthy discussion, as the answer is inevitably quite complex as one sole power can often have drawbacks and unintended consequences. Well, despite its premise, Project Power really is not a film that in any way even seems to even attempt to examine any element of that very expansive and interesting question – and that has to render it a complete waste.
Well, perhaps not a ‘complete’ waste, as it is a perfectly watchable and entertaining film, but considering just what it could have done with its initial premise, Project Power has to inevitably be described as at least a waste. The actual narrative descends into a generic detective story as our main characters wade through police corruption to try and track down those generic bad guys at the top of the chain that are supplying these drugs, who of course want to make lots of money, fine tune these drugs and achieve some kind of global domination. This plot has of course been done to death with other types of drugs, and Project Power just happily steals from these films while casually using the power of these particular drugs to create some (admittedly) decent action sequences and throw in the usual ‘create an army of super soldiers’ trope for good measure that has been done before just as many times.
Also throw in some painful narrative contrivances involving Dominique Fishback’s teenager refusing to take orders or trust people when it is convenient for the narrative, but then equally completely trust a character if that is more convenient for the overall narrative at that particular juncture.
Unfortunately, that is your lot, and the result is an extremely predictable and forgettable experience.
As it is on Netflix that does mean (providing you already have a subscription) it is at least watchable and not a complete waste of time. The issue with the pills is one of the main problems; different pills provide different specific superpowers for 5 minutes, and while the generic greedy and nasty producers of these pills may know which is which, we are given the impression that those taking them predominantly are playing Russian roulette when taking them, as they do not know what superpower they will get, and indeed if it will actually kill them! They all just appear to be bright orange, so are not exactly colour coded or have nice clear labels on them. However, while the clunky script makes a big deal out of this fact at some points, at other points characters talk like they know exactly what their superpower will be before taking any pill – more like some X-Men style mutation. Either of these concepts on their own could have once again added an edge or element of unpredictability to the narrative, but yet again the script cannot decide which way to go, and so its tendency to sit in the middle of the road means it is fun to a certain extent, but certainly never gripping.
While the script may be lacking in many areas, the visuals and the performances do make up for this to a certain degree to at least make Project Power just about watchable. Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are very watchable in their roles, and when the narrative contrivances inevitably lead them to team up (it takes a while) they are good to watch together in a generic chalk and cheese relationship. Jamie Foxx’s character does admittedly have a half-decent backstory, though it is never really explained in enough detail, while there are also some half-assed attempts at political commentary and even some remarks about the devastating effects of hurricane Katrina, but these are best ignored as they are not developed properly. Though thanks to the very lacklustre script it is painfully obvious just how her character is very clichéd and her mere existence is (via some serious plot holes) just there to help the narrative progress, Dominique Fishback is also very good and quite watchable as the film’s third main character. While the whole ‘superpower’ thing does provide some well executed action sequences.
As the narrative progresses it becomes an increasingly predictable narrative about taking down drug dealers, and the actual ‘superpower’ element is just an increasingly convenient and lazily used element that allows certain aspects of the narrative to progress to their inevitably very predictable conclusions. There are so many things that could have been done with Project Power’s initial concept, and it truly is a shame that all involved just decided to produce what can only be described as a dumb action film.
In what seems to be the current tradition for Netflix original films, Project Power has a potentially very interesting central premise that is turned into a painfully generic and predictable film that is rendered as just about passable entertainment by the decent leading performances and some slick action sequences. This however has to inevitably go down as yet another waste.
At time of writing, Project Power is available to stream on Netflix