Aspiring inventor David Raskin (Jonny Weston) dreams of being admitted into MIT, and although he is eventually accepted into the school, he is unable to afford its tuition. Upon learning that his mother Kathy (Amy Landecker) is planning on selling the house in order to pay for the tuition, he, along with his sister Christina (Ginny Gardner) and friends Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista) dig through his father’s old belongings to see if they find another prototype that David can use to get a scholarship. After finding what appears to be just an ordinary video camera, David is shocked to see his current self in the background of footage at his 7th birthday party. Confused and shocked by what he saw, he and friends dig some more and discover blueprints for what appears to be a time machine.
From there, they successfully achieve the ability to travel through time where they use this gift wisely in changing the world for the greater good.
Or they use it to do stupid, immature crap typical of high schoolers.
Originally titled Welcome to Yesterday and scheduled for release in February of last year, Project Almanac was pushed back a full year at the last minute. Despite my initial lack of interest in what looked like another Chronicle wannabe, the most recent trailer raised my interest in this film a bit.
Yet for all it has going for it, Project Almanac is ultimately a mess.
I’m gonna get the one character aspect that bugged me out of the way. So when we first meet David we learn that he’s a MIT hopeful who’s brilliant enough to create devices that are operated by motion sensors. He also seems to know quite a bit about time-travel. Everything except for the butterfly effect which is no big deal ’cause it’s only been referenced in pretty much every time-travel story as far back as Ray Bradbury’s short story “A Sound of Thunder” from the ’50s. Granted, someone that’s going back in time to get revenge on the school bully isn’t gonna give a rat’s ass about the chaos theory, and consider Jeff Goldblum all the more disappointed ’cause of it (uh – uh – yeah, but – uh – you see – uh – your scientists – uh – were – uh – preoccupied with thinking they – uh – could, they – uh – didn’t stop to – uh – think – uh – whether – uh – uh – they should). Still, you’d think someone as smart as David wouldn’t be so dumbfounded over the fact that changing something in the past will create a ripple effect.
Project Almanac doesn’t have the high-concept ideas and thought-provoking questions that the other time-traveling themed film from this month, Predestination, had, but like Chronicle, which dealt with three teens giving extraordinary superpowers they’re not emotionally able to handle responsibly, this film deals with the same idea but with time-travel. Writers Jason Harry Pagan and Andrew Deutschman have written an imperfect, uneven yet still solid and sometimes witty script that captures exactly how teenagers would treat time-travel if they had the ability to do so, whether it’s one character redoing a chemistry presentation over and over again ’til he aces it or another using the device to win the lottery (a moment in the movie that has him making a single number flub that leads to a priceless response from the gang as they get their picture taken with the lottery check).
And yet I still can’t quite recommend this film. There are moments of wit, yes, and the young, mostly unknown cast all turn in solid performances (particularly Jonny Weston and Sofia Black D’Elia who share a nice rapport with together). This film had potential to be a entertaining sci-fi flick; however, it’s undone by the tired found-footage format that serves no purpose other than that the filmmakers and the studio thought since it worked for Chronicle it should work for this film. Did Chronicle need found-footage? No, but it worked as a great super-villain origin story (and unlike this film’s sudden tone shift from lighthearted to grim, established the darker aspects with Dane DeHaan’s character early) in spite of it. This film has absolutely no need whatsoever for the found-footage format, and director Dean Israelite’s excuses to justify it, as well as certain visual effects shots within the format make no sense (that camcorder must have a bitchin’ After Effects program installed in it).
Employing another tired technique, the jittery shaky-cam, doesn’t help either and takes the primary problem of this film further than just being a minor distraction. It’s really a shame too, ’cause had this have been conventionally shot I can’t imagine why it could’ve have been 90-minutes of decent fun.
Project Almanac has its moments and features a likeable young cast. However, what could’ve been fun popcorn entertainment is wasted by a knee-jerk change in tone during the final act and some of the most headache inducing camerawork you’ll see this year. It’s clear the one and only reason found-footage is used here is to capitalize on the success Chronicle achieved, but given the sloppy execution on display here, the filmmakers would’ve been wise to warp back in time so they could scrap that idea.
I give Project Almanac a C- (★★).
Review source: http://silverscreenfanatic.com/2015/01/31/project-almanac/