Iffy science project
The date of its release shouldn’t determine the merit of a film, but a January movie often carries with it the stigma of low expectations. So we’ll give some latitude to “Project Almanac,” which boldy mixes two highly problematic and generally passé devices: found footage and time travel. (Can you say vertigo-inducing implausibility?) “Project Almanac” has plenty of both but there’s no denying the film connects on some levels with its teen-aged target market.
The plot is simple enough. A group of high schoolers finds the makings of a time machine in the home of MIT hopeful David (Jonny Weston), then figures out how to make it work using plans left behind by David’s late father, and of course the whole story is captured using a hand-held camera. Two suggestions for the audience to make the fairly predictable events tolerable: Pretend the kids are middle-school aged, because they often speak uber-obviously (“Dude!” “What was that noise?”), and sit as far back from the screen as possible because the camera shake could make even a seasoned astronaut toss his popcorn.
The cast has chemistry and the story unfolds quickly and with personality as the kids predictably act like kids when they figure out how to use time travel to their advantage. Instead of going back to kill Hitler (“Time travel 101”), they do things like win a lottery, cheat on a chemistry test, and figure out how to get backstage passes at a Lollapalooza-type concert. These aren’t spoilers because nearly all the major plot points are revealed in the trailer, which is basically a shortened version of the movie, with nothing of substance left out of the advertisement. That’s usually a vote of no confidence from the studio.
As the severity of the ripple effects caused by their “temporal dislocation” compounds so does the implausibility. This is especially true in the head-scratching final moments—notwithstanding the much appreciated references to much better films like “Looper” and even “Time Cop.” But these imperfections are likely to matter little to teens, many of whom will easily relate to the likeable goofiness and convincing friendship of the characters. “Chronicle” and “Cloverfield” covered this terrain and demographic much more effectively, but “Project Almanac” can’t be faulted for its imitation, just its lack of imagination.
Still, if you believe in such ill-advised activities, “Project Almanac” is perfect fodder for an adolescent sleepover (with parental supervision, of course). And for a change, the adults aren’t all idiots. Considering this is an MTV Films project, the content is rather tame.
Rated PG-13 (for some language and sexual content).