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Review: Project Almanac

Project Almanac
01.30.2015
3 10

PLOT: Five teenagers uncover a time machine that one of their fathers invented; after finding they can make it work, they proceed to jump back in time - only a few days, a week - and party like it's... only a few days ago.

REVIEW: "PROJECT ALMANAC is for teens!" will be go-to defense of most of its fans. But that justification is along the same lines of one of my favorites, the "Transformers has giant robots fighting, what more do you want?!" defense. Just because it's aimed at a certain audience doesn't automatically excuse it for being dumb, dull and unimaginative. ALMANAC, a time travel yarn co-produced by MTV, is indeed more or less gunning for the dollars of young adults in the 13-18 age range, which is fine, because I'd love it if every generation had its own awesome time travel flick. Sadly, this is not an awesome time travel flick. It's a silly and long-winded exercise in pandering to its audience in the most simplistic ways possible. I can't guarantee it, but if I were in that targeted age range and I knew this movie were aimed at me, I'd be insulted.

All time travel movies contain their own unique paradoxes and plot holes; even the greats like Back to the Future, The first two Terminators, The original Time Machine and Looper have some unsolvable issues. (Hell, I'll even throw in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure!) That's part of the risk you take when playing in this subgenre. But those movies go for broke, they seek out new and interesting ways to fascinate and confound us, to make us think about the very notion of time travel. ALMANAC doesn't want to make us think at all, nor does it present us with characters who are very interested in the possibilities of the astounding machine they create. If you''re the kind of person who would use a time machine to ace a science quiz you failed or buy cheap tickets on ebay for an upcoming concert, then ALMANAC is for you because that's about as adventurous as it gets. Which of course brings us back to the "but they're teenagers!" argument, because duh, that's what any teen would do with a time machine, right?

The story centers on David (Jonny Weston) a highly intelligent high schooler who just found out he got into MIT, but without the hefty scholarship required to foot the bill. His mom is currently unemployed and his inventor dad is deceased, so either he proves to the school that he's worthy of a full scholarship or he's screwed. With the help of his annoying sister (Virginia Gardner) who films literally everything (this is a found footage movie after all), David snoops around his dad's old workshop in the hopes of finding an unused invention to help push him over the edge. What he finds is the prototype for a time machine - one he knows will work because he also finds a video of his 7-year-old birthday party which the 18-year-old David apparently attended. Thus he and his two buds - class clown Quinn (Sam Lerner) and nerdy Adam (Allen Evangelista) - as well as his crush Jessie (Sophia Black D'Elia), go about making the damn thing work.

This set-up feels like it takes forever. The movie spends an unfortunate amount of time on the trial and error phase of the group's experiment, and while that may be "realistic" for lack of a better word, in movie terms we want this party to get fired up ASAP. It doesn't help that the characters themselves are hyper and irritating, with most of the dialogue consisting of either unfunny back-and-forths or tiresome, breathless exposition. (The "smart" characters naturally have to explain everything to the "dumb" ones.) After the laborious first act is finally over, the movie struggles to find interesting things for the characters to do with the time machine! Think about that for a second. They go back to take revenge on bullies or win the lottery (of course) so that they can buy flashy cars and hire a fleet of food trucks to impress the other kids in school. Harmless ideas, yes, but I couldn't help thinking I have rarely seen a movie so helplessly clueless as to what to do with its initially intriguing sci-fi premise. And just in the interest of making us aware, screenwriters Andrew Deutschman and Jason Pagan constantly reference other time travel movies (Bill & Ted, Looper, Time Cop, etc), as if to say, "We know what we're doing here." Nah, you don't. The predictable problems arise eventually, but the movie has waited far too long to make us care when it suddenly attempts to conjure up an actual plot.

The characters do little to elicit our sympathy, especially our lead, David. For a guy who is supposedly nearly a genius, he doesn't have much in the common sense department, allowing his love for Jessie to thoroughly danger the very fabric of time. (He strikes out with her at a concert so he goes back in time to try again, with catastrophic results.) We get it, love makes us do crazy things, but this isn't a love story for the ages: this is a high school crush, and I'll be damned if I can excuse this guy having no game for altering the past and present. He's such a maddening creation that I was literally rooting for him to fail.

Aside from its silly script, ALMANAC also suffers from its found footage format; as with most of these movies, you really have to invest in the story in order to suspend your disbelief that one character would record everything no matter how utterly insane the situation becomes. ALMANAC pushes that well past the limit, and it has a major case of the "shakes" to boot. I usually don't get seasick during these films, but ALMANAC's jittery POV was sometimes too much for me; I wanted to close my eyes and make it stop. Add to that there is no reason in the world for this movie to be found footage; the same exact story could have been done traditionally and that would have been just fine.

I'm really curious to find out what the target audience thinks of PROJECT ALMANAC. Perhaps they'll relate to the thumping, omnipresent music or the puppy love story or the notion that there's nothing more important than repairing something stupid you did the other day as opposed to using your stunning invention to make a worthwhile difference. Or, perhaps, the makers of this movie - like the characters - set their sights way too low.

Source: JoBlo.com

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