Project Power

 

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Not so much a superhero movie as a superbaddie romp, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s latest fantasy swallows any distinction with overblown effects and hackneyed set-ups.

   

Project Power  

Gene genie: Joseph Gordon-Levitt feels the power

 

Futuristic dystopias are so last January. Post-lockdown, these things now exude a nostalgia bordering on the quaint. Here, in the near future, a new drug has been unleashed on the population of New Orleans which gives its users superpowers. But here’s the thing: each consumer has a different genetic make-up, so that they cultivate their own superpower, be it a tendency to spontaneously combust, cheat death or grow spikes out of their forearms à la Wolverine. Then there is the “death factor” when, well, it all proves too much for them. It’s like ecstasy, but with melodramatic side effects. There’s enormous potential here for a rollicking X-Bad Men, but Mattson Tomlin's script plumbs for the generic where we have a cop, an ex-soldier and a schoolgirl converging on a climax that has been ripped straight out of a B-movie manual.

 

There was an unappreciated little drama in 2011 called Limitless, in which Bradley Cooper played a washed-up novelist with writer’s block whose potential was unleashed by a new drug. He not only completed his book in a week but also learned to play the piano and speak Italian. No such niceties are on view here, as it doesn’t take a whole lotta CGI to show somebody tickling the ivories. Nope, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s violent fantasy is more concerned with big effects than big ideas. While they brought us the inordinately ordinary Paranormal Activity 3 and Paranormal Activity 4, their calling card was the novel faux documentary Catfish (2010), which promised an auspicious future. Alas, there has been little paranormal about their subsequent filmography, although the techno-thriller Nerve (2016) exhibited some panache. Here, there are enormous set pieces with increasingly underwhelming effect. While much is made of the grimy underbelly of New Orleans, and there’s a handful of eye-catching drone shots, the film is visually mundane.

 

Jamie Foxx is the enigmatic protagonist, complete with enigmatic agenda, while Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes the most of his rule-bending cop, a lone wolf in a corrupt police department. The jewel in the crown, however, is Dominique Fishback, who plays Robin Reilly, a smart schoolgirl with low grades but a talent for rap. In the film’s only distinctive scene, she takes up Foxx’s challenge to riff on the words “feline,” “seismograph” and “antibiotic” – to devastating effect. But the film is in too much of a hurry to linger on such incidental character traits and ploughs straight back into the action. It’s a noisy, headache-inducing ride, scattering only a few neat ideas and comic asides into the stream of cliché.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback, Rodrigo Santoro, Colson Baker, Allen Maldonado, Amy Landecker, Courtney B. Vance, Andrene Ward-Hammond, Kyanna Simpson, Jazzy De Lisser, Chika, Jim Klock, Casey Neistat.

 

Dir Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, Pro Eric Newman and Bryan Unkeless, Screenplay Mattson Tomlin, Ph Michael Simmonds, Pro Des Naomi Shohan, Ed Jeff McEvoy, Music Joseph Trapanese, Costumes Sharen Davis.

 

Screen Arcade/Supermarche-Netflix.

111 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 14 August 2020. Available on Netflix. Cert. 15.