Since George Lucas explored the exploits of college-bound youths in American Graffiti, teen parties have proliferated on film. Indeed, each decade that followed has added new instalments, including Sixteen Candles and Weird Science from the 1980s, American Pie and Can’t Hardly Wait from the 1990s, and Superbad from the last ten years. In the absence of other efforts of late, Project X continues the category. Accordingly, the feature charts the celebratory actions of three North Pasadena teenagers as they throw the ultimate high school gathering.
Friends Costa (Oliver Cooper, Weekend Dad), JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown, Blind on Blind) and Thomas (Thomas Mann, It’s Kind of a Funny Story) are never invited to parties, with the excessive tales of their classmates revelry only inspiring envy. When Thomas’ parents go away for the weekend – on his seventeenth birthday, nonetheless – the trio decide to make their own merriment, although each has different plans for what the event entails.
Former Queens native Costa is intent on changing the game by boosting their social status, spreading word of the shindig far and wide. Overweight JB just wants acknowledgement from those around him, whilst reserved birthday boy Thomas has childhood friend Kirby (Kirby Bliss Banton, TV’s Hannah Montana) in his romantic sights. As the evening unravels, things get out of hand as their expectations are well and truly met. For posterity, their video camera-wielding pal Dax (debutant Dax Flame) chronicles their every move over the course of the wild night.
Although the shenanigans of teen party films often comprise the bulk of such offerings, a sense of story surrounds the festive scenes. As a result, their inclusion in coming of age efforts is common, with the central celebration signifying the characters’ progression from adolescence to maturity. Project X attempts to make those assertions, without any sign of overarching framework. Instead of a narrative, the feature is based purely on an idea: a high school get-together allowed to run rampant.
Indeed, in an offering reminiscent of the media circus surrounding any tabloid television report about the follies of youth, there are no hidden depths to be glimpsed in music video and television commercial director Nima Nourizadeh’s debut offering. The only aim appears to be the assembly of an endless array of montages of juvenile, angst-fuelled behaviour, with the voyeuristic, misogynistic gaze of the majority of sequences recalling the types of content the helmer is best known for.
As a result, viewers are forced to endure a repetitive loop of pranks and puerile acts, involving wanton destruction of property, peer pressure and torment, extreme inebriation from legal and illicit substances, and unnecessary displays of flesh. That this type of unfunny behaviour occurs is not in dispute, but to base an entire film around it – without any expansion of the concept or sign of context – should lead to several questions. The appropriation of the increasingly popular found footage technique only exacerbates the unpleasantness, whilst adding to the artificially induced feeling of authenticity. Sadly, it is the experiential style and accompanying contemporary soundtrack that the target audience will react to, not the lack of substance.
With an obvious absence of character development in Matt Drake (TV’s Spin City) and Michael Bacall’s (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) expansion of the latter’s story, the film that unfolds is vacuous and vapid. Although devoid of meaning, a “popularity before consequences” mantra is reinforced as the feature places its immature, irredeemable protagonists on a pedestal. The involvement of Old School and The Hangover filmmaker Todd Phillips in a producing capacity is far from surprising, however his oeuvre is vastly more sophisticated than this abysmal effort, as unlikely as that may seem. An exploitative, derivative instance of cinema that disgraces the medium, denigrates the genre and debases all involved with it, Project X will change perceptions for all the wrong reasons.