Moving the ‘found footage’ mechanic over to the comedy genre isn’t the worst of ideas. Even now, horror is rife with films that take such an approach, and, even though there are a fair few duffers, there’ are still signs that the whole idea can be mined reasonably well, in the right hands.
Project X, then, also turned out to be one of the films that pretty much any studio wished it had released. Made, we’re told, for not much more than $10m, the film went on to be a solid hit, creeping over $100m at the worldwide box office, and all-but-guaranteeing a sequel. That’s before the cash from the disc release and such like get factored in.
That said, it’s not quite the surprise out of nowhere. The movie is produced by Hangover-helmer Todd Phillips, along with Joel Silver, while it’s the idea of Michael Bacall, whose writing also hit big earlier this year with 21 Jump Street.
Project X, though, is a really hard film to like. At times, a desperately hard film to like.
It’s basically the story of three high school kids, and it just happens to be the birthday of one of them. That’d be Thomas, who simply wants to have a “cool” birthday party while his parents are out of town. In the hands of his friend, Costa, things spiral wildly out of control, and the ensuing party? Well, we’re not going to spoil it for you, but it’s hardly on the small and quiet side.
Appreciating that the box office returns suggest this isn’t a majority view, there are two big problems with Project X. Firstly, for a comedy, it’s not funny. It just isn’t. It’s hard to remember one decent laugh in the whole thing. I can’t say it was utterly dull, with the brevity of its running time making sure it has to keep motoring, but it struggles at what it’s supposed to do best: making you crack your mush.
My second problem is, for want of a better way of putting it, the moral of the story. It’s a film that lacks, after all, particularly likeable characters, with each of them doing things that hardly warrant sympathy (in terms of how they treat other characters) across the film’s running time. Thus, the ending is a bit of a sour-tasting headscratcher. It’ll be hard to find a more morally ambiguous film all year, I’d wager.
The film itself has a real commitment to its central premise, throwing everything it can in to make the party itself as memorable and over-the-top as possible. And, to the film makers’ credit, there’s a real sense of a low budget being stretched here, particularly as Project X hits its last 20 minutes. That’s what just about stretches the film to a second star. Just.
The problem, though, is that for all the film’s achievements, it’s still an unfunny comedy, that just about drifts through by being willing to up the ante of the party itself at regular intervals. You get a longer cut of the film as an option on the disc, incidentally, but it’s barely worth bothering with, and neither are the sparse extra features all round.
Project X will, pretty much without doubt, be a big hit on disc. It barely deserves to be, though.