It’s now official: 2012 is the year in which the Blair Witch-style, shaky-cam thing busted out of its horror-movie roots and proved it can be applied to almost any genre. Owen Gleiberman, film critic for Entertainment Weekly magazine, has a closer look at “Project X.”
A few weeks ago, “Chronicle” used the style to create ingenious low-budget sci-fi, and now there’s “Project X,” a teenage house-party bacchanal produced by Todd Phillips. It feeds ‘I Love the ‘80s’ clichés through a kind of bobbing-camera Mixmaster. It’s “Can’t Hardly Wait” for the age of ‘Jersey Shore.’
In suburban Pasadena, three exceedingly ordinary high school dudes stage an all-the-way birthday bash for one of them, even though they’re not exactly the kind of guys you’d expect to attract a hot crowd. Thomas, played by Thomas Mann, is the one turning 17. He’s the dutiful son who has promised not to mess up his parents’ house. The other two are Oliver Cooper, in the David Krumholtz-Curtis Armstrong role of the derisive noodge who speaks in hip-hop putdowns, and Jonathan Daniel Brown as the harmless mascot along for the ride.
You could call these three a junior “Hangover” trio, and you’d be right, except that the real giveaway to the kind of movie “Project X” is arrives when Thomas’s father warns him not to lay a finger on Dad’s cherished Mercedes. It’s a trope out of the era of “License to Drive,” and so is everything else in this movie. But the going-all-the-way clichés have now been wrapped up in a kind of lively documentary of excess.
“Project X” was directed by Nima Nourizadeh, who does a logistically impressive job of making the action look like one continuous, surging spurt of youthful hormonal alcoholic insanity. The film’s guiding spirit, though, is Todd Phillips, who maintains his singular genius for updating the clichés of the “Animal House” era so that they look just dangerous enough to make nostalgia feel naughty.
“Project X” serves up the frat house/Spring Break antics we’ve all been watching for years, and implies that it’s smashing down cathartic new barriers of misbehavior. In the end, though, it ain’t nothin’ but a party.