Updated: Jul 13, 2021
There is a pill that imbues its user with a different kind of high: it gives them a superpower for five minutes. It could make them bulletproof, give them superhuman strength, turn them into an Incredible Hulk-esque monster, etc.; or it could cause them to explode. You don’t know what your power will be until you take it. It is a temporary superhero (or supervillain) in a bottle.
Project Power (now streaming on Netflix) begins with this intriguing idea and proceeds to do very little with it. It sets up a bunch of threads, throws several stereotypical characters into them and sends them down the most predictable path it could. The plot is so thin that I spent the first half expecting it to reveal the real story after some sort of twist. It seemed obvious that it would use the idea of the drug to spin its trio of stock main characters in unanticipated directions (the disillusioned war vet on a mission, the cop who will do anything to protect his city, the teenager who wants to be a rapper but has resorted to dealing drugs to make ends meet). It doesn’t. There are no twists, no surprises, no creativity once the pill is introduced. Instead, it wastes its ripe concept on a paint-by-numbers action story.
The movie takes place in New Orleans, where the drug has taken over the streets. The screenplay does not ask questions like: How would this impact the class divide? Would this empower poorer communities, who are usually hit the hardest by drug epidemics? Or would those with power use it to widen the gulf even further between the haves and have-nots? How would it change law enforcement if those the police are supposed to be serving have access to something that makes them stronger than the police? The three main characters could have been used to explore issues of class, race, justice, all kinds of things. It didn’t need to be social commentary; I would’ve been happy just to see this stuff used to add weight to the action.
That is what Project Power isn’t. I generally try to focus more on critiquing a movie for what it is. If Project Power did what I talked about, it would be a different movie. So, I will now concentrate on reviewing it based on what it is.
Its biggest asset is its cast. Jamie Foxx is Art, the veteran who has made his way to New Orleans looking for someone and doesn’t care how many bodies he leaves behind him in his quest to get what he wants. Foxx gives a surprisingly emotional performance, considering that Art has no depth. He suggests details that aren’t otherwise present, creating a sympathetic hero.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (between this and 7500, he has appeared in two movies in two months, after having not been in one in four years) is Frank, the dedicated cop. He is charming and charismatic in the role, making for a good team with the serious Foxx. He trudges through a lot of clichés, yet is talented enough to do some solid work.
I also liked Dominique Fishback as Robin, the teenage girl who Art yanks into the plot. Her personality and backstory are both incredibly familiar (the same could be said of Art), though Fishback makes it at least somewhat believable. It is to her credit that there were moments where I came very close to caring about what happened to her.
Unfortunately, none of them are fully developed. Not even for an action movie. The fact that the villains are personality-less, money hungry, drug dealers, certainly doesn’t help. It is like they were written as outlines with the intention to put more interesting antagonists in later, then nobody ever did.
The action scenes are decent, with the enjoyable hook of “what’s going to happen when someone takes a pill.” However, that can only carry things for so long. Even the fast pace cannot make up for the lack of substance. The cast, concept and direction are all good, but not enough thought was put into what to do with them. The answer turned out to be the bare minimum, making for a pretty big disappointment.
2¼ out of 5
Jamie Foxx as Art
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Frank
Dominique Fishback as Robin
Rodrigo Santoro as Biggie
Amy Landecker as Gardner
Kyanna Simpson as Tracy
Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Written by Mattson Tomlin