In director Nima Nourizadeh's teen comedy Project X, three nerdy high-school pals in North Pasadena decide to make names for themselves by throwing a wild party, and then throw the party.
Now that we've dispensed with the plot, let me try to explain why, through almost its entire running length, this movie made me want to repeatedly plunge an ice pick through my skull.
I should begin by stressing that, of course, I'm hardly the chief demographic for Project X, mainly because I'm old enough to attend R-rated movies without having to sneak into them. Written, if that's the correct term for it, by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall, this debaucherous-bash-to-end-all-
Truth be told, I should probably amend that statement, because there are other characters on hand ... sort of. There's The Nice Guy and The Nice Girl, and the Vapid Hottie Who Threatens Their Love. There's the Jock Bully, and The Fat Jewish Friend, and The Obnoxious Wannabe Lothario, the latter of whom spends the movie doing a pathetic riff on Jonah Hill in Superbad. (This cretin also delivers so many variants on "Don't be so gay!" and "Shut up, faggot!" that it seemed preordained that he'd wind up macking on some dude, but it turns out that even predictable gags are beyond Project X's grasp.) Filmed, like the recent Chronicle, mock-doc style, with the footage purportedly shot solely from handheld camcorders and smartphones, the movie looks expectedly awful. But you'd think these cameras might at least capture a few moments of recognizable human behavior - even moments captured purely by accident. Instead, giving "naturalistic" performances that only reveal how empty their roles really are, this cast of once-and-future unknowns (and, inexplicably, the excellent Miles Teller of Rabbit Hole and the Footloose remake) exudes not one hint of interior life. For those who remember, Project X was also the title of a mostly forgotten 1987 Matthew Broderick vehicle about a super-smart chimp, and that simian displayed far more personality than anyone in the 2012 Project X.
Oh, and have I mentioned how soul-crushingly unfunny this thing is? I'll fully concede that my opinion is, perhaps in large part, generational, because after all the suburban destruction and blaring techno and pushing of minors off rooftops, I wholly empathized with the film's adult neighbor who threatened to call the cops on our young "heroes." (Naturally, this guy is made a figure of ridicule, and is himself threatened with police action for punching a teenager in the face ... which the hateful little snot totally deserved, by the way.) But unless your idea of hilarity is watching an expensive car getting submerged in a pool, or a midget getting trapped in an oven - honest to God - there are no laughs to be had, and the climactic swerve into full-scale-riot territory felt like a hideous blunder, a narrative detour shocking for all the wrong reasons. (What starts as a raunchier Can't Hardly Wait turns into Do the Right Thing, yet a Do the Right Thing with no true consequences.) Project X is proudly touted as being produced by Todd Phillips, the director of The Hangover, and it feels like a hangover; the film opens with a jokey apology to the people of North Pasadena and their police force, and they're hardly the only ones to whom the filmmakers should've apologized.
DR. SEUSS' THE LORAX
After the hideousness of Project X, I presumed that the candy-colored, animated whimsy of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax would be a blessed relief. And it might've been, had the movie not been its own kind of hyperactive, irritating waste of time. Are those responsible for the recent adaptations of How the Grinch Saved Christmas, The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who!, and this new work actually reading the books they're adapting? Why are these things so incessantly manic? Directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda, The Lorax takes the good doctor's sweet ecological fable about tree preservation and overstuffs it with slapstick and chase scenes and a snowboarding grandma voiced by Betty White; it's like the film version of ADD. Your only moments of respite from the hysteria come from (happily) the occasional snippets of Seuss' poetry and (far less happily) the insultingly soporific songs, and even the details that deliver some actual charm - such as the film's trio of goldfish who harmonize with the helium-filled bravado of Alvin & the Chipmunks - eventually disappoint. (Did this Seussian universe really need the real-world invasion of the fish warbling the Mission: Impossible theme?) With uninspired vocals provided by the likes of Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, and Rob Riggle, the latter enacting a male villain who looks distractingly similar to The Incredibles' Edna Mode, the film assumes a nonexistent attention span on the part of its audience, and winds up delivering nothing of note to pay attention to. Renaud was one of the co-directors of Despicable Me, and it's easy to see that movie's influence here, particularly in the wordless characters who vaguely resemble Minions by dropping their jaws and saying, "Wha-a-a-a?!?" Sadly, that was pretty much my reaction to The Lorax, too.
FLYING MONSTERS 3D
Flying Monsters 3D is the new big-screen edu-tainment at the Putnam Museum, and given how little fun I had at my cineplex double-feature this weekend, I'm thrilled, and greatly relieved, to report that this dinosaur doc is one of the most fascinating and sheerly playful adventures I've yet enjoyed at the venue. With on-screen narration provided by famed naturalist David Attenborough, exuding the sprightly energy of one of Santa's more accomplished helpers, director Matthew Dyas' endeavor explores the evolution behind how land-dwelling pterosaurs eventually took to the skies as pterodactyls, and I'm not sure that my dino-loving inner child ever stopped grinning at it. With the visual effects landing somewhere between Jurassic Park and Ray Harryhausen, and plenty of wit in the scientific exposition - at one point, the reconstructed image of a pterosaur pops off Attenborough's computer screen and, to the naturalist's delight, scampers around the table - Flying Monsters 3D is a lovely, spirited piece of work, boasting gorgeous aerial photography and a jaunty, unobtrusive score. And for all you B-movie fans out there, you'll be especially jazzed to learn that much time here is spent analyzing the 20-foot-high quetzalcoatl, the winged reptile that so memorably menaced Michael Moriarty and Candy Clark in 1982's Q. The Putnam's latest may not be a remake, but for fellow admirers of that low-rent Larry Cohen classic, it may be the next best thing.