Movie theaters are a dying breed. Even before COVID, people have been flocking to theaters less and less. There’s been sizeable shift towards an at-home theater experience, where instead of getting your movies through Regal or AMC, you instead get them through Hulu or Netflix. In some ways this is a positive for films, especially ones that wouldn’t have done well with a traditional release. These types of films often fail to generate enough hype in the leadup to their release and also fail to benefit from any foreign box office revenue. When released through streaming services, which have a much smaller barrier to entry (as opposed to spending money on tickets, snacks, and generally having to leave the house to go to a theater), these movies can still manage to do well, despite the fact that they would’ve flopped otherwise. Project Power is one of those movies.
Project Power comes from duo Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, whose previous films have been the third and fourth Paranormal Activity films, the film Nerve, and the documentary film Catfish. It was written by screenwriter Matt Tomlin, who recently wrote the upcoming Batman film starring Robert Pattinson. The film tells the story of a new drug known as Power being released on the city of New Orleans. This is no ordinary drug, however, but a dangerous new concoction that temporarily gives whoever takes it superpowers. It’s up to detective Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), former soldier Art (Jamie Foxx), and precocious teen Robin (Dominique Fishback) to find the source of this new drug and put a stop to it.
The action scenes in this film are immediately heightened with the addition of a drug that gives the user superpowers. It serves as a powerful wildcard that adds a certain amount of unpredictability to every altercation. It’s always fun to see what creative and zany powers the film can come up with; there are more traditional powers, such as fire powers and super strength, all the way to bizarre/unheard of powers, such as turning your own bones into weapons. What makes this even more interesting is that the characters themselves are often unaware of what power they might acquire. Adding to these action scenes is the fact that the performances of our main characters are all well done. Jamie Foxx’s character Art, while very much the typical action hero bent on revenge-type, manages to entertain thanks to Foxx’s performance. Levitt also does a good job as the levelheaded Shaver, and Dominique Fishback manages to almost outshine both seasoned actors as the troubled yet goodhearted Robin.
It’s unfortunate then, that the film falls apart when action isn’t on screen. There is supposedly a vast conspiracy at play regarding the presence of this drug in New Orleans, but the script never adequately conveys this in a way that the audience understands the severity, nor does it truly raise the stakes for the audience. Without any spoilers, the script also suffers from painfully obvious foreshadowing in the form of a high school lecture on fetal alcohol syndrome and heritability of diseases. Perhaps most disappointing is a clumsily inserted allegory about society exploiting black men and women’s bodies and using them in the name of scientific advancement, which the film hardly does anything with. This is particularly disappointing because, if done well, it would have managed to greatly elevate this film over typical action fare. As it is now, the allegory merely serves as a look at what could have been.
Hand in hand with a less than stellar screenplay are some less than stellar direction choices, some of which manage to detract from the otherwise entertaining action. There’s an occasional use of slow-motion during action scenes that seems intended to make the action scenes more cinematic, but ends up adding very little. There were additionally instances where action scenes were framed in such a way that the scenes became unintentionally harder to follow, while adding very little from a stylistic standpoint.
It’s disappointing to see a film with a solid action premise suffer from a mediocre script and sporadically confusing directing decisions. If you’re a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt or Jamie Foxx then this film will suffice, and if you’re looking for an action film with a unique twist, this will more than suffice. However, be prepared to be confronted by moments that leave you asking yourself what could have been. If a few things were executed better, Project Power could have been not only a superior action film, but also a superior film in general, one that would be considered one of the best this year, instead of simply an average film dumped on Netflix.