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Project X: Plotless party film a failed experiment

A scene from "Project X"

Beth Dubber/AP

2 out of 4 stars


Judged by the usual aesthetic standards – all that quaint stuff like plot, character, theme, dexterity of the comedy or depth of the tragedy – Project X sucks. It's just another lame movie. Yet apply a different standard, the mores of our time, and you get a different verdict: Suddenly, it's a perfectly lame movie that speaks intriguingly to the way we live now.

That's because this is the movie equivalent of a photograph with accompanying text message, like the guy who posts a picture of his restaurant meal on his Facebook page: Steak With Trimmings at the Black Angus. No need for a specific title, Project X will do, because this is also the movie counterpart of the way we speak now. It's the "Whatever " of flicks, the "It is what it is" of pop entertainment.

What is it, then? Simple: a party. And the party isn't just a character in the picture; the party is the only character in the picture, the one presence that changes and grows. It grows bigger, gets riotous, goes nuts. That's the whole, and exclusive, point of the movie. Sure, there are people too, yet their sole purpose is to initiate and populate the party. A trio of teens are throwing the bash to celebrate a birthday. The venue is a Pasadena house where the parents have left for the weekend and the backyard pool waits impatiently for its contingent of skinny-dippers.

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Early on, the threesome – all played by young unknowns – stop in at their high school to electronically issue mass invitations. Then they pay a visit to a dealer to buy a little pot and capriciously steal a garden gnome which, unknown to them, is stuffed with even better recreational drugs. In any other movie, that mistake would constitute the emergence of a plot. Not here. The party is all that matters; it's the Steak With Trimmings.

I should mention that the trimmings include the inevitable point-of-view camera, as the trio are trailed everywhere by a fourth, their buddy the ubiquitous videographer "shooting this little birthday movie." Of course, the found-footage conceit is a de rigueur gimmick, but it always gets cheated when the need arises – in this case when the central character, the party, appears in earnest. Then, the p.o.v. camera repeatedly gives way to a jumpy montage of extreme close-ups featuring the up-skirt cam, the underwater cam, and the girls-flash-their-breasts cam.

All these angles and shots are culturally familiar, arising as they do somewhere in the nexus between YouTube and YouPorn, between populism and sex. Since precisely the same nexus defines much of advertising, it's no coincidence that the director here, Nima Nourizadeh, made his name shooting a celebrated Adidas commercial called – what else? – House Party.

Anyway, with the star in place, it's just a matter of ramping up the numbers and cranking up the mayhem. So 50 revellers swell to 1500. A girl tossed into the pool becomes a Mercedes driven into the pool. A lit match graduates to a belching flame thrower. The plastic gnome taken from the garden morphs into an actual dwarf stuffed into an oven. Two cops in plainclothes escalate to a full platoon in riot gear. The innocent wonder of the hosts, who marvel guiltily at what they've wrought, is almost contagious. Almost.

Eventually, the chaos is sufficient to attract a TV crew from the local news channel, whose on-screen crawl says everything that needs be said, compressing plot and character and theme and comedy into four little words: Party Out of Control. It is what it is.

At an advance screening, the man beside me, the woman beside him, and another man in front of us were all working their cellphones throughout the picture. They were reading and sending texts (perhaps "I'm here sort-of-watching Project X"), justifiably confident that this movie is the perfect complement to such multitasking, that nothing on the big screen in the theatre would prove too distracting from the small screen in their hand. Occasionally, they would look up and laugh. Or not. Whatever.

Project X

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  • Directed by Nima Nourizadeh
  • Written by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall
  • Starring a bunch of unknown teen actors
  • Classification: 18A
  • 2 stars

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About the Author
Film critic

Rick Groen is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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