Project X

The strange thing about Project X, which concerns a high-school kid’s party gone haywire, is that we don’t particularly care about the kid or his buddies, yet we still feel a certain amount of dread about what’s to come. The kid, Thomas (Thomas Mann), is about to turn 17; his horndog friend Costa (Oliver Cooper) badgers him into throwing a party for the occasion. But not just any party; an epic party, full of booze and drugs and wanton women. Thomas has the use of his parents’ house for the weekend, and he is admonished not to mess with the Mercedes or let anyone into his dad’s office. By night’s end, the office may or may not even be left standing, and you don’t want to know about the Mercedes. There’s also a little dog involved, and I can report with some relief that the dog makes it through the bacchanal unscathed — unless he catches something from his sexual partners of varying species.

Project X is that kind of movie — loud and crude, essentially good-hearted (if there are any fights or rapes at the party, which eventually attracts somewhere around 2,000 guests, we don’t hear about them). The film’s wildness limits itself to the escalating property damage in the final reel — you’ve seen every other excess here before. Except for bits concerning the dog, I didn’t hear myself laughing. That definitely includes any scenes involving an angry little person (Martin Klebba), who stalks through the party punching anyone, male or female, in the crotch. When all else fails, I guess, haul in what Chelsea Handler fondly refers to as a “nugget.” All else fails a lot here; there’s a rather lackluster subplot — really little more than a thread — in which Thomas, nursing feelings for a girl he’s known since childhood (Kirby Bliss Blanton), falls into bed with an unattainable vixen and is caught by the heartbroken former girl.

I suppose we should be thankful that we don’t get the obligatory scene in which Costa, forever boasting of his sexual exploits back home in Queens, turns out to be a scared virgin. We do get various non-jokes about another kid (Jonathan Daniel Brown), a catatonic-looking fatty. I was unpleasantly surprised to see Miles Teller — so honest and fine in the drama Rabbit Hole — as a popular kid who drops in on the party; I felt disappointed in him almost personally for spending his time in this company. Since this is yet another “found footage” movie, it’s all shakily camcordered by a stoic AV student who doesn’t say or do much else. Does this overused technique, employed elsewhere mainly for horror films, add anything to the fun? Not really, and the movie often cheats by cutting between two geographic points; we wonder who else has a camera, who edited the footage together for our perusal, and so on.

Two younger kids hired as hapless “security” for the party — they take the job very seriously indeed until the party grows beyond anyone’s control — provide some mild amusement. Otherwise, Project X is short on fresh characterization, and it didn’t have to be that way; Dionysian bashes from Animal House to American Pie found some quirks in their kids. Thomas is just a nice-guy blank — we’re not much invested in his fate. Some of the suspense built into an illicit-party film like this lies in whether the party-throwers can cover up and clean the mess before the parents get home, but past a certain point — when news choppers buzz over the neighborhood and riot teams are called in — we figure that’s a dead issue. The movie nods at Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when the dad’s Mercedes meets its fate, complete with a similar quote (“I can’t fix this”), but it doesn’t come out of Thomas’s resentment at his dad or his Mercedes — it’s just a meaningless “oh, shit” moment. The whole film is, really.

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