Project X Dir. Nima Nourizadeh

[Warner Bros.; 2012]

Styles: mockumentary, teen romp
Others: Jackass, Superbad, Cloverfield

In style and message, Project X mostly resembles one of those beer commercials where girls in cutoff jeans grind on muscular guys in between close-ups of tongues doing this or that to a beer bottle. When I noted this to the person I saw the film with, she added that the movie’s audacity in asking us to believe it was made from people’s “actual” iPhone footage was itself a marketing ploy, to lure YouTube fans into the theater with visions of the culture they know best. The two things, of course, make perfect sense together, TV commercials and YouTube videos, only from opposing ends of the advertising spectrum. To reach a lot of people on TV, you have to spend a lot of money; on YouTube, reaching people isn’t a sure bet, but it doesn’t cost a thing to try.

Project X, crafted though it is to seem like found footage, cost a bundle ($12 million), especially for an imagination-less retread of the teenagers-trying-to-get-laid genre. Its obvious price tag is the clearest indication of which end of the advertising spectrum it belongs on. Only an idiot would be fooled into thinking this movie wasn’t staged, which only highlights the fact that it’s a shameless attempt to use the signifiers of the viral video culture to score a hit at the movies. Which makes it, essentially, an intentionally cheap-looking 90-minute commercial whose only product is itself.

A lot of movies could be described as “basically advertising,” but at least in theory what they’re trading for the insult of being presented a commercial as if it were a movie is the prospect of being entertained. I can’t say the preview audience that filled the theater in which I saw Project X weren’t hooting and hollering at the movie’s lowest-common-denominator sexism, but that statement requires a brief note on preview audiences: they’re made up of the kind of people who sniff out free movie passes in newspapers and radio giveaways. They willingly trade the right to choose what movies they see for a free pass to whatever a movie studio is trying to push. So the fact that Project X wowed a few hundred cheap bastards doesn’t convince me that it’s essentially entertaining. On the other hand, it was a lot more than just preview audiences that made Jackass 3D a huge hit, so maybe the moral is: never underestimate the appeal of willful mindlessness.

Director Nima Nourizadeh made his name in — surprise — music videos and commercials before landing this movie, his first feature. Like most directors who acquired their skills going his route, he’s a deft editor, and he knows how to angle his cameras to best catch cleavage, camel toe, and panty lines. That’s about the best that can be said for him. He mishandles the requisite loser-becomes-a-Man plot thread so terribly that for chunks of the movie — those rare chunks when we’re not forced to ogle those poor Hollywood hangers-on who choose to be extras in movies like this — it’s difficult to tell whether any kind of character-based story is even progressing.

And that’s it. If you’re looking forward to Project X, you’re probably not expecting to be sucked into any kind of characterization, and that expectation will be fulfilled. And you’re probably expecting to see a lot of tits and get off on the energy of a frenetically-edited wild party (or an advertisement for beer, it doesn’t matter), and in that case, you won’t be let down either.

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