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The Manhattan Project (SE)
DVD disk
07.24.2007 By: Quigles
The Manhattan Project (SE) order
Director:
Marshall Brickman

Actors:
John Lithgow
Christopher Collet
Cynthia Nixon

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
With the help of his girlfriend, a gifted science student sneaks into a secret weapons factory and steals a container of plutonium, using it to build "the first privately produced nuclear device in the history of the world." But when the government catches wind of this, shit proceeds to hit the proverbial fan.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
When I hear "atomic bomb", I think catastrophic warfare and endless human casualties, not comedic gags and family-friendly fun. And therein lies the problem of THE MANHATTAN PROJECT, a movie that might've avoided coming across as completely ridiculous had it not presented itself in such a carefree manner. It also features quite possibly the dumbest smart kid ever put to film. He's a wisecracking teenager that's clever enough to infiltrate a highly secured lab, steal plutonium, and build himself his very own atomic bomb, but apparently he's too stupid to realize that, on a scale from bad to worse, doing so would classify as "utterly batshit crazy".

No matter how likable the actor playing the character is (which he really is), it's a little hard to root for somebody who's putting about five states worth of people at risk. You may actually find yourself rooting for the military men to just hurry up and put a bullet in the kid's brain, ending the madness once and for all. That doesn't happen, obviously, and it's no surprise considering how inept the government is depicted here. It's not like this guy got caught peaking into the girl's locker room with his trousers down; he stole some f*cking plutonium and built an atomic bomb... Stop being so damn casual about it! Honestly, the intensity level is nonexistent, hardly even rising after the bomb accidentally goes into countdown mode and the characters are moments away from death. John Lithgow even finds time to crack a joke or two.

Had these noticeable and consistently distracting problems not taken me out of the film, chances are I would've loved it. Because as much as THE MANHATTAN PROJECT may get a lot wrong, it also gets a lot right too. Whenever the atomic bomb-building science whiz manages to take a break from employing the common sense of a 5 year old, he actually makes for a very entertaining lead character. The scene where he bypasses all of the lab security so he can steal the plutonium is handled wonderfully (with the exception of maybe the laser bit), proving to the audience what a smart and resourceful individual he can be, instead of just saying it and expecting us to go along.

This intelligence also comes through in the dialogue, as evidenced in the hilarious scene where the teen gets all starry-eyed and tells his beautiful girlfriend, "I never thought I'd say this to anybody, but... I gotta go get the atomic bomb out of the car." Moments like these elevate the production into a state of potential greatness. It's just too bad the story itself isn't able to rise to the occasion.
THE EXTRAS
A very basic array of extras are made available here. Not exactly the most special of "Special Editions".

Audio Commentary (with director Marshall Brickman): Despite some interesting bits of discussion littered through the track, even huge fans will be hard pressed to sit through the entire thing. What's particularly odd is that a voice pops up randomly in places, apparently consulting Brickman with what he should be talking about. I don't get why this wasn't edited out.

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (18:27): A standard but interesting retrospective making-of featurette, with the director taking up most of the runtime.

Homemade Apocalypse (4:16): Following along the same lines as the previous extra, this featurette delves into how the filmmakers designed the bomb used in the film.

Also included is the Theatrical Trailer and a Trivia Track featuring random information relating to '80s pop culture.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
There are a lot of great '80s movies featuring genius science kids dealing with absurd situations (WARGAMES, WEIRD SCIENCE, REAL GENIUS), but the tone in THE MANHATTAN PROJECT is too awkward and inconsistent to rank up with the likes of them. That aside, the film does still have its fair share of memorable moments, and much of the writing is snappy and clever. Had the filmmakers maybe not chosen such a hardcore topic to act as a base for their lighthearted storyline, I might've been able to love it as much as I wanted to.
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