Film Review: Project Almanac

Saying this underbaked 'Chronicle' knockoff is meant for teenagers is an insult to the intelligence of teenagers everywhere.

Here are the ways in which Project Almanac is like Josh Trank’s Chronicle: They’re both found-footage sci-fi films about a group of teenagers who stumble upon something that gives them incredible power, which the nerdy main character, against the urgings of his friends, proceeds to misuse.

Here are the ways in which Project Almanac is unlike Chronicle: Where Chronicle had superpowers, Project Almanac has time travel. And Chronicle is actually a good film.

The adjective that kept rocketing around my head while watching Project Almanac is “pointless.” This film has absolutely nothing to it. The basic plot is that David (Jonny Weston), his friends Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista) and his younger sister Christina (Virginia Gardner) discover the blueprints for a time machine designed by David’s late father for the military technology agency DARPA. If you’re wondering whether part of Project Almanac involves DARPA showing up to retrieve the plans to this incredibly dangerous piece of technology they’ve commissioned, they don’t—that makes too much sense for this movie. Instead, David and his group—later joined by Jessie (Sophie Black-D’Elia), the girl he’s had a crush on for years—build the machine, play around with it some, realize messing around with time has potentially nasty consequences, and attempt to undo the havoc they’ve unleashed upon the world in the most obvious and anticlimactic way possible.

That’s it. There’s about ten minutes’ worth of plot here, none of which does anything new or interesting with the subject of time travel. Instead, we get an unnecessary half-hour of the machine being built (there are, honest to God, three or four different “dramatic” instances of batteries blowing out), an admittedly amusing scene of our heroes using time travel to fix some of high school’s day-to-day difficulties, and an endless sequence set at Lollapalooza.

The movie grinding to a halt so we can watch its characters party wouldn’t be so egregious if we got some character development out of the deal, but there are no characters to develop. Everyone is one-note. Quinn is the Obnoxious Class Clown. Jessie is the Hot Chick. David is the Hero, if an emotionally oblivious, thoroughly unlikeable one who’s sent into reality-altering tailspin by a tiny, inconsequential fight with Jessie. The stakes in this movie couldn’t be smaller. The whole plot is kicked off when David gets into MIT, but can’t afford to go. I know I haven’t been a teenager for a while, but I’m pretty sure that even teenage me would have thought that was stupid. You know who can’t afford to go to college? Most people. Take out some student loans like probably everyone else at your school.

The anemic character development is most frustrating in the case of Christina and Jessie, who exist only as love interests and so the male characters can explain things to them, because they’re stupid girls who don’t understand science. There’s some lip service paid to Christina being a victim of bullying who wants to use time travel to stand up to her tormentors, but for the most part she’s behind the camera, recording the exploits of everyone else until the movie needs her to jump into the action so we can stare at her underage cleavage for a while. It is profoundly uncomfortable.

From the sexual objectification to the Lollapalooza scene to the obnoxiously blaring sound to the involvement of MTV Films and co-producer Michael Bay, it’s obvious that this film is meant for teenage boys, but also that everyone involved must think teenage boys are the stupidest creatures on earth. There’s an attempt to make Project Almanac hip and genre-savvy by having its characters reference other time-travel movies they’ve seen, yet they have must have slept through 99% of them, because they failed to grasp a very basic point of the genre: That changing things in the past changes things in the future. It’s like having characters in a zombie-apocalypse movie rhapsodize over how much they love “The Walking Dead,” only for it to take them two-thirds of the way through the picture to realize they shouldn’t let the zombies bite them.

Similarly, the found-footage style reveals itself as a meaningless affectation if you give it two seconds of thought. I’m all for found footage being used when there’s a reason for it—as in Chronicle, where it reveals the disconnectedness felt by Dane DeHaan’s character—or even when it does something new and inventive, as with Earth to Echo’s use of Google Maps and the like, but neither is true of Project Almanac. David wants to “document” their experiments so they can use the recordings as reference should something go wrong. But then things go wrong, and they never refer to the recordings. And what possible reason could Christina have for filming intimate conversations between her brother and Jessie? Instead of something that contributes to the story, we get a lot of nausea-inducing shaky-cam and characters exclaiming, “Are you seeing this?!”

There’s nothing to see. Writers Andrew Deutschman and Jason Harry Pagan introduce potentially interesting plot elements only to drop them in favor of idiotic pandering, while a nonsensical plot twist is thrown in at the last minute in an attempt to punch up an ending—a movie—that otherwise completely fizzles.

Click here for cast and crew information.