A film review by Craig J. Koban February 9, 2015


2015, PG-13, 106 mins.


Amy Landecker as Kathy  /  Ginny Gardner as Christina  /  Jonny Weston as David Raskin  /  Katie Garfield as Liv  /  Sofia Black-D'Elia as Jessie  /  Gary Grubbs as Dr. Lu

Directed by Dean Israelite  /  Written by Jason Pagan and Andrew Deutschman

PROJECT ALMANAC is a film about high school students that are brilliant enough to build a time machine in their basement based on 10-year-old blueprints, but nonetheless do stupid and illogical things with it.  

Worse yet, the film – shot way, way back in 2013 and shelved until its recent release – makes the cardinal blunder of using the found footage premise as its basis without plausibly grounding why the story needed it in the first place.  Much like the recent INTO THE STORM, PROJECT ALMANAC struggles throughout with finding a meaningful motivation for its characters to film every...single...waking...moment of their daily lives.  What we're unavoidably left with is a film that feels distracting and false because of its artifice, which is a shame because there’s an intriguing time travel narrative buried deep within this film’s hooky gimmicks. 

On a positive, PROJECT ALMANAC looks to one of the better recent found footage films in CHRONICLE for inspiration.  That latter film focused on the idea of what would happen when a bunch of teenagers tried to cope with new-fangled super powers, whereas PROJECT ALMANAC deals with a group of teens acclimatizing themselves to a temporal traveling device.  The young adults in question this time are lead by David Raskin (a decent and natural Jonny Weston), an unreservedly brilliant young student that has just won admission into M.I.T. for figuring out a manner of manipulating a small remote controlled drone…with no apparatus and just his finger tips (pretty nifty), but when it dons on him that his family is poor and no scholarships are in sight, poor David feels the burden of his inability to go to the college of his dreams. 

One day changes everything for David’s future – and past – when he and his younger sister Christina (Ginny Gardner) stumble across an old camcorder in their attic that has footage from Danny’s birthday party from ten years ago.  What should have been a trip through happy nostalgia turns to shock when David sees…himself at his current age…in the footage from a decade ago.  He seems convinced – without a reasonable explanation as to why – that he was indeed an eyewitness at his own birthday party all those years ago, but how is this possible?  His other friends, including Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista), think that their pal is crazy, but when they all discover what appears to be secret blueprints for a time machine-like device hiding in David’s basement, all of them begin to realize the potential truth: David just may have transported himself back to the past. 



Through remarkably swift ingenuity – largely at the expense of some highly convenient and head-scratching scripting – David and his pals are able to interpret the details from those blueprints and manage to build a time travel device...at least after multiple trips to the local hardware store and stealing some hydrogen from their school’s locked-up lab.  After a few failed tests, the group finally succeeds in sending an inanimate object through time and space via their new contraption.  David then decides to test the device on human subjects, namely himself and his buddies, urging them all to take small trips back to the recent past (24 hours) and only as a group and never solo.  Early on, they make tiny journeys back to relive – or redo – events in their respective pasts (like retaking tests or seeking revenge on fellow bullying students), but then their ambition grows stronger by the day.  David and company start taking larger trips into the past and dramatically alter their lives, but when David blows an opportunity to score with the girl of his dreams (Sofia Black-D’Elia) he decides to break his own self-imposed rules and travel back in time on his own, which results in horrendous ripple effects in the future.  

To be sure, first time director Dean Israelite keeps things moving at a fairly swift pace in PROJECT ALMANAC and gets reliably good performances from his young stars.  His film is also drolly self-aware at times about the fact that it is a time travel film, with the teens having multiple amusing conversations about past genre flicks as far-ranging as THE TERMINATOR, LOOPER, BACK TO THE FUTURE and BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE.  PROJECT ALMANAC becomes particularly engrossing during its middle third when David and his friends become more insatiably greedy in terms of what they can do with their time machine (which David is are able to secure in a backpack, keeping it hidden from witnesses in the past).  Some hysterical mistakes result during their travels, such as one involving a winning lottery ticket (the group uses the device to travel to the past to get the winning numbers, but accidentally input the wrong last digit, resulting in a win of a million-plus dollars instead of tens of millions).  At the very least, PROJECT ALMANAC does have some fun with its premise.  

The nagging problems, though, with the film outweigh its merits throughout, especially for how it deals out ample technical mumbo-jumbo that tries to ground the story on a level of scientific realism, but then gets lost along the way in a story built on obtrusive logical loopholes.  The film cements its very plot on the fact that David and his friends are essentially geniuses.  They’re able to correctly deduce every detail of David's father’s old schematics and build a time travel machine with parts that could be purchased at any Home Depot.  Yet, for as irreproachably intelligent as David is as a scientist, he appears to have never heard of the principle of the Butterfly Effect.  Late in the story when he does venture alone back into the past he makes a series of selfish choices that have tremendous negative effects on the future…and all to win the love of a girl and escape virginity.  David is “smart enough” to create time travel, but is too dumb to understand the consequences of the equally moronic choices that he makes in the past.  

And why the hell is PROJECT ALMANAC even shot via found footage at all?  What could have been a relatively straightforward and entertaining time travel film shot using traditional means instead becomes distracting because of its unnecessary found footage look and feel.  The best examples in this genre understand that the wisest approach is to give a reasonable explanation as to why characters are constantly filming their activities 24/7.  Outside of the need to document his experiments, there’s really no need whatsoever for David and his comrades to film every minute detail of their day-to-day activities.  PROJECT ALMANAC also cheats a lot with its technique; sometimes, the footage looks rough and raw, whereas other times it looks smooth and composed like it went through some post-production at a film studio.  Yes, the found footage concept is instrumental to the film’s would-be mind-bending/plot-twisting finale, but that’s undone rather quickly if one simply ponders the nature of paradox. 

PROJECT ALMANAC is more frustrating than awful.  There’s an intriguing sci-fi yarn here about teens traveling via a homemade time machine in small dosages, but it never exploits the possibilities of this premise, nor does it provide a rationale for its very existence as a found footage film.  PROJECT ALMANAC is more of a loosely assembled gimmick than a fully realized film.  And you’d think that a young man as limitlessly intelligent as David would use time travel for better purposes than…getting laid.  

Granted, this film is from Michael Bay’s production company…sooooo…

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