By Sam Pasco
In a sentence: Intriguing science fiction premise with star power (Jammie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt), but the action is essentially non-existent during the first 45 minutes.
2020, R, 1 hour, 53 minutes. Available exclusively on Netflix (Netflix Original). ***SPOILER ALERT*** When I finished watching this movie, I liked it. During the first 45 minutes of the movie, not so much. Project Power centers on a fictional experimental drug that gives people superpowers for five minutes. The characters involved consist of former military officer Art (Jamie Foxx), New Orleans police officer Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and teen drug dealer/rap enthusiast Robin Reilly (Dominique Fishback).
The first 30 minutes of the movie aren't necessarily “slow” in a traditional sense, but it feels like four different opening scenes are used where one or two would have been sufficient. Each scene introduces the characters but doesn’t really tell us anything new. 45 minutes in it feels like you’re still being teased about the potential action that could happen in this movie while not seeing much of that actual action.
The biggest thing this movie suffers from is identity. It doesn’t know if it’s supposed to be a classic big-budget CGI action movie (which it slowly becomes during the second and third acts) or a nuanced, allegorical look at the impact of drugs and the promise of power in impoverished communities. Along the same lines, Project Power relies too heavily on the relatively unknown Fishback to carry the entirety of the first act while scenes with Gordon-Levitt and Foxx (who were featured heavily in the advertisements) were few and far between.
The overall visual effects were a mixed bag. The movie didn’t actually ask for many special effects from its main characters (Gordon-Levitt is bulletproof, Foxx didn’t use powers until the last scene, and Fishback never took the pill), but there was some egregious CGI with Newt’s (Richard Colson Baker) fire superpower and the “giant monster” power. I personally enjoyed the “Need For Speed” type visual in the opening credits showing the police reports of superpower sightings, but again the momentum built during this scene largely dissipated in favor of another, tangentially related opening scene.
Fishback’s rapping was impressive, to say the least. I was actually very surprised that her rapping in the classroom scene was a dream. It’s slightly confusing character-wise to see Robin being a badass in the streets but timid in front of her school teacher.
I have to mention that musician Machine Gun Kelly (Bird Box, current boyfriend of Megan Fox) and YouTube vlogger Casey Neistat (12.2 million subscribers) make cameos in this movie. Kelly, who plays a drug dealer named Newt, appears in two scenes in the opening 20 minutes but quickly dies after his power (fire) flames out. Neistat is a non-factor in the plot but Foxx does steal his motorcycle while his girlfriend is accidentally frozen.
Personally, one of the main draws of this movie for me was Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Known for 500 Days of Summer and Inception, I was excited to see him blend quirky charm with the strength of an action star. His fight scenes were entertaining and his “bathroom stunt” was very clever and topical. I would have liked to see more scenes from Gordon-Levitt and Foxx earlier in the movie as that duo was the primary draw of the movie, as you can see in how Twitter (for instance) advertises it.
I’m indifferent toward the ending, but I would have liked to see Fishback’s character come to some sort of resolution with her rapping talent. It’s on display throughout the movie but nothing materialized as the heroes “ride off into the sunset”.
Below is a list of every superpower in the movie that I noticed. While the “animal evolution” premise of the powers was interesting, it’s hard to believe that growing into a giant monster (1:10:03) is found in nature.
Explosion (failed power)
Flexible Bones (contortionist-style)
Explosion (Pistol Shrimp)
Rating: 88/100, Would Recommend
I would recommend this movie only if you have the patience to sit through 45 minutes of basically nothing happening. If you’re a fan of superpower action movies or a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the 45-minute investment is definitely worth it. Gordon-Levitt’s scenes in the back half of the film alone are worth waiting for as his charm and strength are on full display.