A film review by Craig J. Koban March 14 2012



2012, R, 87 mins.


Thomas: Thomas Mann / Costa: Oliver Cooper / JB: Jonathan Daniel Brown / Dax: Dax Flame / Kirby: Kirby Bliss Blanton


Directed by Nima Nourizadeh / Written by Michael Bacall and Matt Drake

If you were a parent and were onboard an airplane during which the in-flight movie was PROJECT X then I’m certain that - after viewing it - you would frantically unbuckle yourself from your seat, race to the cockpit, and plead mercilessly with the pilots to turn the plane around so that you can return home to ensure that your teenage son/daughter and home are okay.  

PROJECT X is rated 'R' for (cracking my typing fingers and knuckles) “crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, drugs, pervasive language, reckless behavior and mayhem…all involving teens.”  All involving teens.  Some laughed uproariously all throughout this Todd Phillips (THE HANGOVER, OLD SCHOOL, and ROAD TRIP) produced teen sex/party-out-of-control comedy.  I devolved into a state of fidgety depression: it was thoroughly demoralizing seeing this film’s teen characters behave in all manners morally nauseating. 

Am I being a prude?  I don’t think so.  I have enjoyed some of the raunchiest films of all-time as unmitigated laugh-riots (including some of Phillips’ own films).  Yet, there is something wholeheartedly unsavory and perverse about this $12 million budgeted cinema verite/found-footage styled comedy.  PROJECT X has undeniable filmmaking craft; first-time feature film director and former music video helmer Nima Nourizadeh does make this film’s underlining wild party feel tangibly alive.  Very few house party films can touch this one’s verisimilitude in terms of making you feel like you are actively a part of its explosive energy, crassness, and unrelenting moral chaos.  

Unfortunately, PROJECT X does not have a scintilla of actual humanity in its 87 minutes.  Once you get past its found-footage gimmickry (which, by the way, if done right – as was the case with CHRONICLE last month – it can be brazenly original) there’s simply no reason for this film to exist.  Beyond adhering to every single tired genre formula for these kinds of films throughout, PROJECT X borders of teen sexploitation more than it probably should have.  We get a parade of reckless, irresponsible, mean-spirited, and genuinely loathsome male adolescents that, for the most part, live within a shocking bubble of alcohol and drug use, shameful disrespect of adult figures, mistreatment of property, deplorable objectification of girls, and blatant disregard to personal safety and law enforcement.  If the “people” in this film are meant to be “human beings” then I want off this planet. 

The story of the film concerns an unpopular Pasadena kid named Thomas (Thomas Mann), who lives a high school and social life of painful ordinariness.  His 17th birthday is coming up and his buddies, Costa (Oliver Cooper) and J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) plan to throw him the B-day party to end all B-day parties…and parties in general.  Costa and J.B. enlist in the assistance of a local Goth teen name Dax (Dax Flame) to film the planning of the party and the party itself for the purpose of documenting it, I guess (the reasons for this film’s found-footage existing in the first place is weak at best).  Thomas is very reluctant to throw any type of wild bash, seeing as his overly protective father gives him explicit instructions as to the care of his home while he and his wife depart for the weekend. 



As plans for the party ensue, it becomes clear early on that things may indeed get out of hand.  Costa seems almost beyond obsessed with ensuring that his BFF has the time of his life, so he sends massive chain e-mails and texts to everyone at school to ensure that attendance is "off the hook."  Initially, just a dozen or so of Thomas’ high school acquaintances show up, but via the power of modern social media his party - over the course of the night - swells from 50 to over 1500 and involves faceless people that begin to descend on Thomas’ home and neighborhood like a hedonistic and vile plague.  The shindig starts to get horrendously out of control: the pool starts to get over-flown with topless sluts, the house becomes a fire hazard due to overcrowding, crazed partiers spill out on to the streets (much to Thomas’s neighbors' dismay)…and this is before the cops, a nut-busting dwarf, and a vengeful drug dealer with a massive blow torch shows up. 

I have liked comedies about horny teenagers that want to party and score (see SUPERBAD), but the difference with those other past films is that I liked their hapless protagonists.  In PROJECT X nearly all of them are despicable.  With the possible exception of Thomas, his buddies are mercilessly detestable, especially Costa, who smugly prances around dropping f-bombs like they’re going out of style, speaking in grating hip-hop code, and charmlessly bullies his buddies into getting laid by as many (in his frequent use of the word) “bitches” as possible while “getting high.”  The heinously misogynistic attitudes of these characters nearly made me want to vomit in my mouth.  

The makers behind the scenes fare no better.  It’s one thing for the characters to be amoral and sexist assholes, but the way PROJECT X exploits young women (who are, for the most part, supposed to be barely legal) is so jaw-dropping at times that it barely registers above the decency quotient of a GIRLS GONE WILD video.  Nourizadeth shots the girls in this film not as people with feelings or personalities, but as soulless inebriated harpies that like to get in compromising positions to show off their assets (we get ample female nudity on top of copious under-the-skirt, crotch and ass shots of girls walking around or up stairs, for instance).  The females in this film are mostly sex objects to be conquered; at one point a garden gnome is thrashed like a piñata and ecstasy pills fly out of it on to the ground, which subsequently has the teen floozies (and some boys, to be fair) hungrily grasp out for the drugs like they've just seen food after not having seen any for days. 

And don’t get me started on the film’s laundry list of teen party genre clichés: we are introduced to Thomas’ father’s prized Mercedes, which will unavoidably get trashed; the main “hero” that’s a virginal loser that wants to get de-flowered to become cool; and, of course, the lad’s long-time platonic female friend, Kirby (an appealing Kirby Bliss Blanton) that he’s hopelessly stuck in the friend zone with, but since she has matured and become a total babe he has yearnings for their friendship to go in new directions.  Predictably, he screws that up just when it’s getting good.  I could go on and on; the point here is that – outside of its you-are-there artifice – nothing daringly innovative happens all throughout PROJECT X.  The plot is just on pathetic cruise control.

Lastly, what’s the message of this film to its teen audience members (let’s face it, the marketing targets and panders to them)?  That it does not matter whether you trash your parents’ house and surrounding neighborhood, binge drink and take drugs, and deliberately jeopardizing your safety and that of thousands of those around you because – fuck it – all that matters is being awesome and having your social status elevated in the process.  There’s a moment in the film where a police SWAT team descends on Thomas’ block (which, by this time in the film, looks like a napalmed jungle on flames from APOCALYPSE NOW) and wild partiers begin to hurl objects at the officers and destroy nearby cars.  Some of the teens in the audience I was with cheered these moments on, whereas I glumly slumped down in my seat.  I recalled the Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver from 2011 that had an eerily similar vibe of young people selfishly and dangerously neglecting public safety and property.  The manner PROJECT X sensationalizes teen debauchery is more irresponsibly repugnant and frankly disturbing than it is funny and entertaining.  The film is about as hilarious as a real-life youth-led street riot.

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