For the third time since I began reviewing films, the Cinemark at Louis Joliet Mall was packed with high-school aged people, odd since Project X is rated R and should therefore be off-limits to people under the age of 18.
A crowd of five or six loud, baseball-hat sporting guys (and the crowd was mostly young men) who didn’t look a day over 15 plopped down in the same row.
“Are you guys 18?” I asked somewhat authoritatively (and jokingly).
“What is with you people?” one shot right back.
Silenced and humbled after the exchange with my fellow viewers, I nonetheless grew to enjoy their energy and humorous asides throughout the filmgoing experience last Friday evening. More of their contributions are at the end of this article.
As the movie opened, a decidedly young female voice from within the theater sneezed. This drew approximately 10 deep-voiced rejoinders of “Bless you!” from all points around the audience, the remainder of which howled at the blessing.
Onto the film. I expected to hate this one, but Project X surprised me, as it kept me laughing throughout. I’d seen the trailer ad nauseum, which was long on fire and drug use and short on humor.
Its essence can be summed up by the picture’s MPAA rating: “Rated R for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, drugs, drinking, pervasive language, reckless behavior and mayhem — all involving teens.”
The rating note somehow leaves out gratuitous fire, angry midgets and a malevolent dope dealer armed with a flamethrower. Yeah, no one sports any Menjouvian* charm in this one.
But the filmmakers here do manage to weave in some tender moments, mostly involving a squandered-then-redeemed romance between star Thomas (Thomas Mann) and Kirby Bliss Blanton (Kirby). But most of these other moments are a bit buried under the pretext of this being the ultimate teenage party movie.
The plot centers around three nerdy friends, JB, Thomas and Costa, who plan Thomas’ 17th birthday party with the hopes of creating a bash so over-the-top that they’ll be transformed into their school’s chosen ones, popular with all. They succeed, and their party, the promotion for which is spread virally through text message and social media outlets, becomes a Bacchanalian soiree for the ages. We find out later word of the party also made it to a local radio station.
Our three protagonists are likeable chaps. Costa, a Queens expatriate who reminds everyone of his New York heritage, has a voice like Joe Pesci and the troublemaking spirit of Tom Sawyer. Thomas, the birthday boy, initially has the quiet spirit of a video game geek, although he grows into the semi-heroic persona of a PlayStation Don Juan as the film progresses. JB exudes the feel-bad-for-him persona of Fredo Corleone, simmered with a healthy dose of Charlie Gordon from “Flowers for Algernon.”
If you watch closely enough, you’ll catch several references to the comic touchpoint Animal House, especially in a grocery store scene and a scene filmed from underneath the bleachers of the local high school.
Unfortunately and unnecessarily, Project X is filmed in the shaky, hand-held camera style of the Blair Witch Project and Chronicle, featuring some nausea-inducing cuts. As I’ve said before, this cinematic crutch has run its course.
*Referring to the dapper charm of Adolphe Menjou, an easily overlooked 20th-century character actor who successfully made the transition from silent films to talkies.
“Look at JB, he’s like a fat little Rain Man, texting away” — Costa.
“I gotta report this” — Random partygoers, upon witnessing Thomas’ dog being sent skybound by hot-air balloons.
“The house is trashed. You’re the worst security ever” — Costa, to his two young and ineffective security guards.
“I’m gonna go home, have a good cry and start calling some lawyers” — Costa, in the party’s aftermath.
Obligatory Who references
Because of the inherent hilarity punctuated with unnecessary destruction prevalent here, this entire picture is reminiscent of the Who’s ill-fated 1973 American tour supporting “Quadrophenia.” That romp featured Keith Moon overdosing onstage after taking a handful of elephant tranquilizers in San Francisco and a Toronto hotel trashed so violently that the entire Who entourage wound up in jail. Here’s a partial list, I’m sure I missed some:
- People swinging from an expensive chandelier. The Who probably didn’t invent this tried-and-true rock moment of excess, but they surely perfected it.
- The expensive car sinking in a body of water. In this one, Thomas’ dad’s Mercedes winds up in the swimming pool. As I’ve just mentioned just about every week, at Keith Moon’s 21st birthday party in Flint, Mich., our percussionist hero drove a Lincoln Continental into the drink, earning the band a lifetime ban from the Holiday Inn hotel chain.
- The stampede scenes when the riot squad shows up to disperse the crowd are eerily reminiscent of the 1979 Cincinnati tragedy, when 11 Who concertgoers died following a rush to enter the venue.
Other observations at the moviehouse:
Gladiator + Dungeons and Dragons = John Carter. “Or is it John Conyers?” asked the smart-alecky, apparently politically astute moviegoers next to me, referencing the longtime Michigan democrat.
- More Dungeons and Dragons-type fare is teed up in Wrath of the Titans. Upon seeing this trailer, the Greek chorus next to me intoned sarcastically, “That was intense!”
- Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller star in Neighborhood Watch, which in the preview looks like a glorification of petty vandalism, but actually turns out to be a bumbling-guys-prevent-a-plot-to-destroy-the-world flick. Expect egg sales to soar next summer.