Directed by: Nima Nourizadeh
Written by: Michael Bacall, Matt Drake
Starring: Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Kirby Bliss, Danton, Alexis Knapp, Miles Teller, Dax Flame
Guilty pleasures. Even if he or she won’t admit to guilty pleasures in public, every critic and cineaste has them. A central, salient feature defines guilty pleasures: they’re indefensible in the court of public (or private) opinion. They’re often, if not exclusively, morally objectionable, repellent, repugnant, offensive and practically every other synonym you can imagine. In limited circumstances, guilty pleasures can be defended, but usually not in good faith (otherwise they wouldn’t be guilty pleasures). Who needs good faith, though, when we have PROJECT X, a teen sex comedy that makes SUPERBAD and SUPERBAD’s numerous, if not countless, non-illustrious predecessors’ pale in comparison. It even makes producer Todd Phillip’s exercise in hedonistic self-indulgence, THE HANGOVER, look like PG- or, at best PG-13-rated fare.
Directed by first-timer Nima Nourizadeh and written by Michael Bacall (the upcoming 21 JUMP STREET reboot/remake/reimagining, etc.) and Matt Drake, PROJECT X centers on Thomas (Thomas Mann), a nebbish non-entity hoping to make his high-school mark before time (and his senior year) runs out, Costa (Oliver Cooper), a foul-mouthed, sex- and status-obsessed, self-described “Jew from Brooklyn,” JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown), the obvious third wheel in the group and the literal butt of Costa’s aggressively condescending fat jokes, and Dax (YouTube non-sensation Dax Flame), trench coat-wearing, voyeuristic videographer non-extraordinaire. Yes, we’re back in “found footage” territory. It excuses the occasionally shoddy camerawork and editing, but like other recent efforts, it abounds in logic problems. More importantly, PROJECT X focuses on stock characters we’ve seen many, many times before. Together, they plan, orchestrate, and execute the high-school party-to-end-all-high-school-parties to celebrate Thomas’ birthday.
Thomas halfheartedly promises not to wreck or otherwise damage his parents’ (Peter Mackenzie, Caitlin Dulany) upscale, suburban, Pasadena home, but both he and we know he’s not telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the unvarnished truth (to his parents). He just hasn’t realized how far the party-to-end-all-parties will go and how much property damage will result from the party-to-end-all-parties. Like all teens in wish-fulfillment land (i.e., everyone in a film, not in real life), Thomas has not one, but two female high-schoolers interested in him, Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton), a childhood friend he can’t quite see as a romantic partner (until he does), and Alexis (Alexis Knapp), the ungettable girl who, much to his surprise and ours, turns out to be supremely gettable, at least once she decides, like everyone within a twenty-five mile radius to give Thomas’ birthday bash a try. Thomas even gets a celebrity guest, Miles (Miles Teller, FOOTLOOSE, RABBIT HOLE) eager to partake of the various and sundry legalities and illegalities present at Thomas’ birthday bash.
In short (and long too), PROJECT X isn’t anything moviegoers even vaguely familiar with the teen sex comedy haven’t seen before. Costa may be the Id monster personified (and unleashed), but Thomas and JD want the same thing: to score with beautiful girls and to raise their lowly social status to demi-gods, however temporarily demi-godhood exists. And that’s exactly what producer Todd Phillips and his above-mentioned collaborators want moviegoers to want. They want moviegoers to unapologetically root for Thomas, Costa, and JD to get everything they want. Of course, that’s what many audience members will want too, even if only vicariously. After all, the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of the property damage that results from their actions (a) miraculously leave everyone unharmed and (b) they’re not really consequences because they’re fictional.
Ultimately, there’s something positive to be said for a film like PROJECT X that proudly, unapologetically wears its excesses on its beer- and puke-stained sleeves. PROJECT X excuses, justifies, celebrates, and revels in the egocentric, amoral actions of its three leads. Maybe, just maybe, we’re meant to judge the actions of the three leads and find the morally (and otherwise) wanting, but even if that’s the case, it’s still meant to be a minor consideration at best.