Mladen and Del review ‘Project Power’

Image courtesy of Netflix.

“Project Power” Starring Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback, and others. Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, 113 minutes. Rated R. Netflix.

Mladen’s take

I watched “Project Power” a couple of weeks ago and, because the film isn’t worth re-watching, I’m writing this review from memory. Don’t misunderstand, cantankerous Del. “Project Power” is fine for a one-time seeing. Its plot is decent. The acting is good. Visual effects are good. I appreciate the effort the directors made to convey some of the movie from an artsy perspective like the basement room brawl and shootout. Hell, there was one scene toward the end of the film that made me chuckle, though it was a take on the old, “No, your other left.” And, I don’t care that one of our protagonists melodramatized the strength of the strike of a mantis shrimp. Or, was it the pistol shrimp? Or, are they the same species of Odontodactylus?

In “Project Power,” a rogue defense contractor/pharmaceuticals company disallowed to trials test a powerful physiology-altering drug that either kills you or infuses you with a unique power starts selling it as street smack. To gather lessons learned, collect proof of its discovery’s potential to the rich and connected assholes of the world, and elude mainstream press coverage, the pharma moves from city to city using pre-screened drug dealers to push its wares. Where pharma’s potion draws coverage, it’s snippets reported by the local media. One such unbelievable story was the claim that a suspect outran a police car on foot. Toss in a father’s (portrayed by Jamie Foxx) search for his kidnapped daughter, a smart young woman’s (portrayed by Dominique Fishback) need to raise money to help her mother with medical bills, and a New Orleans cop’s (portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) urge to protect his city and “Project Power” becomes a movie with too many anecdotal, though tolerable, moments.

The principal trouble with “Project Power” is its blunt-force-trauma wokeness. Blending so forcibly and pedantically the prejudices faced by blacks into a sci-fi thriller, paradoxically, weakened the message all of us non-Trumpers, anti-McConnells, and Baby Gaetz-Jerkoff Jordan-Supplicant Nunnes haters want reinforced. Racism and lack of economic opportunity for blacks is disgraceful, immoral, and illegal, but you have to be careful about whining because it’ll trigger those among us who’ll happily respond to Black Lives Matter by flippantly saying all lives matter as though there’s no history of, oh, slavery and Jim Crow in this country. In “Project Power,” unfortunately, the wokeness takes the tone of a dry, set-piece lecture.

One of the film’s strongest points is the clever and authentic way it melded the story of “Henrietta” into its script. From the ACLU website: “In 1951, doctors harvested cells from Henrietta Lacks while she was receiving treatment for cervical cancer and discovered that her cells had an amazing capacity to reproduce. ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,’ which aired … on HBO and is based on the book of the same name, tells the dramatic story of how scientists used the ‘HeLa’ cells in research for decades without the knowledge of her family.” As it turns out, Foxx’s character in “Project Power” is chasing pharma because it kidnapped his daughter to study and weaponize her superpower to heal. Neat.

Fishback, who plays Robin in the film, is very good. She does a wonderful job creating her character, a spunky and smart high schooler caught in an untenable dilemma. To help her mother buy health care, Robin pushes pharma’s power pill to drug users. Foxx as Art goes smoothly from appearing to be a bad guy to showing himself as the good guy, after all. Frank, Gordon-Levitt’s role, is a smart-aleck cop who pops a power pill to don his special attribute, very tough skin and/or bones that can absorb a 9-mm round to the temple from pointblank range with only bruising. He just wants to save New Orleans from itself and grifters with links, if I recall correctly, to the federal government. That subplot got a little blurry for my aging brain. Wonder if there’s a pill for lapsing mental acuity?

“Project Power” is sprayed with violence, car chases, and such. All of it good. The CGI approached to top-notch, barring the flaming dude at the beginning of the movie. He looked like he was engulfed by flaming paper streamers or one of those eerie two-story-tall inflatable marketing tubes that bop and wave at you as you drive by. I can’t remember the score, suggesting it was unnoteworthy.

Shit, I don’t know. Maybe “Project Power” is worth a second viewing. I’ll think about it. You, meanwhile, feel free to enjoy this solid B of a movie for its fairly common sequences of good moviemaking. Del, how about you getting off your ass to see this film, so that we can satisfy our loving readers with yet another good review by me and whatever it is that you slap together?

Del’s take

Yes, Mladen, there is a pill for lapsing mental acuity. It’s called Prevagen and I gave you a bulk gift basket from Sam’s Club for Christmas last year. Or have you forgotten?

I watched “Project Power” because Netflix flogged it as “No. 1 in America,” the trailer had cool special effects and it starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt, of whom I am a big fan. I know. Those are judgments based on the book cover principle. But let’s not be coy: We all judge books by their covers, regardless of aphorisms and scolding admonitions. The “Project Power” looked cool.

I thought it was an OK movie. Not great; not terrible. An acceptable use of almost two hours of my entertainment ration. Gordon-Levitt and Foxx are excellent. Dominique Fishback is exceptional. The special effects were terrific and the script was airtight. Plus it was nice to see New Orleans as the setting; I’ve been there many times and it is a unique city, unlike any other in the country. In some ways it reminds me of Spain (a tactic urban planners could adopt for future American developments – cultural design).

I didn’t have as much a problem with the “wokeness” as Mladen put it, though I would agree the delivery of that important message was clumsy and heavy-handed. It leaned more toward telling, not showing, a cardinal sin for all storytellers.

My big problem with “Project Power” was this: They took a big idea and married it to a small story.

Imagine being able to take a pill that would give you a superpower for five minutes. Imagine the potential, not just for warfare but crime, sports, law enforcement, even entertainment? Imagine such a capability in the hands of a rogue player – North Korea, or a school shooter? With this technology you have the ability to completely revolutionize society, and in the process tell a big, world-spanning story. Instead, “Project Wastes” it on drug deals and a man trying to find his daughter. It’s like discovering a cure for cancer and using it to clear up those unsightly liver spots on your hands.

Also, was I mistaken or did the movie suggest taking this drug exacted a physical toll from the user? Because some of the folks looked a little worse for wear following their excursions into the world of superpowers. I don’t believe that aspect of the story was explored to any depth.

Believe it or not, Mladen, I agree with your grade of B for “Project Power.” It has big ambitions but wastes them on a small story that, in the end, doesn’t really change anything.

If you’re looking to invest two hours of movie-watching time in a gritty, science-fictiony universe, catch “Project Power” on Netflix. But unlike its magic pill, your mind will not have been expanded after the experience.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.


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