2015, PG-13, 106 mins.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…