Sadly, the movie about Judge Gordon Sullivan's last bridge party was Rated G.
You are invited
I don't know if it officially started with Animal House or not, but at least since then every generation has had their "Let's be dumb and party movie." I first remember it with Can't Hardly Wait and American Pie, while some of my older friends growing up pointed to the final party in Weird Science or Dazed and Confused. I guess every generation needs films like that, films that say it's okay to let your hair down sometimes and have a little fun. Plus it's the perfect plot to gather a bunch of important aspects of teenage and young adult life together: love, laughs, and getting messed up. However, I kinda pity kids who have to look to Project X as their party flick. Though I don't expect Shakespeare from the genre, this flick's mashup of party tropes and pseudo-documentary stylings is an especially pathetic entry into a genre where the bar is already placed pretty low.
Facts of the Case
A group of high school guys know they're losers and want to do something about it. No girls will talk to them and all the guys look down on them; their solution is to throw the ultimate high school party at one of their houses while the parents are away. What ensues is a party of epic proportions, all documented in a fly-on-the-wall found-footage style.
Despite a pair of warnings preceding the movie (that the film is fictional and that the stunts should not be recreated), Project X sells itself as a Cloverfield-esque kind of documentary/fiction hybrid (like Cloverfield, Project X is a horror film, too, if you happen to be the parent of a teenager). I'll be totally upfront: this is not a style of filmmaking I have any love for. It's a gimmick, and like all gimmicks, when it's done well I can appreciate it, but when it's done poorly it just feels cheap. Project X almost pulls it off. The idea that a party of this type in the twenty-first century wouldn't be documented by multiple cameras (usually attached to cell phones) is absurd. Still, the style comes off as forced in Project X.
I would have been completely able to overlook any flaws in the style of Project X if it weren't for one fatal mistake: the film contains no great characters. Pretty much everyone in Animal House is memorable, Dazed and Confused has Wooderson, and even American Pie gave us Stiffler. Project X goes the other way, offering a set of bland, mediocre characters as the party throwers. Sure they have their stories (like one of them is throwing the party to impress a girl), but none of them are particularly interesting or deserving of the popularity they so desperately desire. It's not even that they're not likeable—Wooderson and Stiffler aren't guys I would want to hang out with—it's that they're utterly forgettable. No matter how hard the movie tries to paint them as mythic heroes for throwing this party, they're just some guys that I couldn't care about.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Whatever the film's problems, it slightly busted the $100 million mark worldwide (earning about half that amount in the United States), and I guess that warrants a splashy Blu-ray release. Things kick off with the fact that this set contains the film's theatrical and extended cuts (or as they insist on calling it #xtendedcut). The extended cut includes another six minutes of material, primarily nudity, crudity, and drug use. Both cuts are available on the Blu-ray disc, while the theatrical cut is by itself on the second disc of the set. Both cuts look good in 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded high definition widescreen. However, because of the source, don't expect standard Blu-ray clarity. Colors are wonky, black levels fluctuate, and detail is all over the map. Of course, that's the fault of the video source and not this Blu-ray, but this is not a disc to show off the new TV. In contrast, despite the crappy camera guy, the heroes of this movie managed to hire an ace soundman (who's invisible to boot!). Overlapping dialogue is discernible, the film's use of music is well-balanced, and the low end positively booms during some of the crazy stunts that happen as the movie goes on. It's really an amazing track.
In addition to the two cuts on the Blu-ray, there's also an interactive feature that goes through the movie tallying up the monetary cost of the damages the party does to the house and surrounding environs. It's mildly interesting in place, but I'm sure some bright soul will turn it into a drinking game before long. There's also a short behind-the-scenes featurette.
I'm usually not a fan of the MPAA, but in the case of Project X they get it right: "Rated R for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, drugs, drinking, pervasive language, reckless behavior and mayhem—all involving teens." I don't know why that particular statement wasn't made more prominent in the promotional materials, as it sells the film a heck of a lot better than posters featuring prone teens. Really, the film lives up to the MPAA's description. It's got teenagers being a kind of ideal version of teenagers, shoving all the angst, hormones, and desire to get away with stuff into a single movie and condensing it down into a handful of characters (and a lot of gratuitous eye candy).
For younger viewers (especially those who would have to sneak into an R-rated screening), Project X will likely be a fantasy yardstick by which to measure all partying, in the same way that generations before worshipped Animal House, Dazed and Confused, and American Pie. For a viewer well past that age, Project X is perhaps impressive for its willingness to go all the way.
Project X (Blu-ray) is cheap entertainment (though probably not at its finest). It's a thin excuse to watch a bunch of people engage in questionable behavior. The characters are stock, the situations outrageous, and the result predictable. For those willing to take the film with a grain of salt (and who also enjoyed producer Todd Phillips' The Hangover), this disc is worth a rental, while fans of the film will find the set worthy of a purchase.
Stupid, possibly pointless, but not guilty.
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