“Project Power” a stylish, but vapid, experience

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Photo courtesy of Netflix Studios

In the six months since movie theaters barred their doors and shuttered their windows, few new films have worked their way out to audiences. The few that have trickled down through various streaming services have divided the moviegoing community considerably. Some people claim that we are lucky to experience any new film at all, regardless of its quality, and others argue that these new films ought to be held to the same standard as any other new release. 

Netflix’s film, “Project Power,”  is one of these divisive movies.

Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, “Project Power” stars Jamie Foxx as Art, an ex-soldier and test subject whose daughter was kidnapped by a defense contracting corporation for unclear reasons. When a new drug, a pill that grants the user unpredictable superpowers for five minutes, hits the streets of New Orleans, the city begins to collapse into chaos. In all this chaos, Art spots a connection between the new drug, this “power pill,” and those who stole his daughter from him. 

Art goes from dealer to dealer, desperate to find the man who holds his daughter captive. 

Also attempting to work his way through the chaos is detective Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is determined to expel this new drug from his city, but cannot do so without partaking in its power. 

Shaver relies on his friendship with a power pill dealer, Robin Reilly (Dominique Fishback) for his own supply, as well as intel about the organization supplying the drug. 

Reilly, Shaver and Art end up being forced to work together to save Art’s daughter and take down the mysterious corporation that is pushing its dangerous drug into their city. 

“Project Power” possesses a brilliant and intriguing premise, an A-list cast, fantastic production design, sleek cinematography and stylish direction, but it is all wasted on a film built upon a script devoid of substance. 

The script for this film, written by Mattson Tomlin, went through a fierce bidding war between several major studios, and it is easy to understand why. The idea of a world filled with pills that can turn anyone into a superhero or a supervillain for five minutes is undeniably ingenious and stuffed chock-full of potential. 

Netflix bet on this film, and they bet big, allocating over $85 million for this film’s creation. After acquiring this script, Netflix gave the film over to directors Joost and Schulman, who had previously collaborated to make the kinetic action/sci-fi film “Nerve.” 

To their credit, Joost and Schulman largely succeed in creating a fast-paced film with energetic action scenes and a few sequences of genuine intrigue. 

Cinematographer Michael Simmonds, who also worked on “Nerve” with Joost and Schulman, once again does a fantastic job composing beautiful, fluid and stylish shots, at least making for a visually engaging experience. 

Also contributing heavily to the positive elements of this film is the on-screen talent. Foxx and Gordon-Levitt are among the most charismatic actors out there, and they certainly bring all that charisma and talent to bear in this film, despite how thinly their characters are written. It is a true pleasure to see Gordon-Levitt starring in a new film after his two-year hiatus from acting, which he took to focus on raising his child. 

Additionally, Fishback stands out in this movie by providing a layered and moving performance in a part actually afforded some depth and heart by the script. 

The real problem with “Project Power” is not its premise, its direction, its cinematography, its actors or its production design (which is perfectly adequate, aside from some awkward CGI). All of this film’s woes are to be found in a script that, though featuring a novel and intriguing premise, feels cheap, generic and shallow throughout. 

Every aspect of this film, except for its pill premise, has been done, and done better, in some other movie. 

It would be nearly impossible to count the action films that begin with a father losing their daughter or a cool inner-city cop willing to break the rules to do the right thing. It is similarly unfeasible to count the number of vague, shady corporate villains in sci-fi/action films that end up being little more than an excuse for the film’s plot to exist, rather than being a true driving force behind the narrative. 

It is easy to understand why audiences could watch this film and enjoy it; its exciting visuals and intriguing premise could be enough to keep one pleasantly engaged for its runtime. However, even someone who enjoys this film would have to admit that its generic and formulaic script is not what won them over. 

This film proves once again that, without a strong script as the foundation for any film, no amount of charismatic acting, stylish direction, fluid cinematography or solid production design can save it. “Project Power” is, in a cliché (fitting for this unoriginal film), all style and no substance.

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