On paper, Project Power looks like it’s going to be a gritty, “real-world” superhero film – something along the lines of Chronicle but without the found footage vibe. The superpowers are credible, and the film sets up a somewhat science-based reason behind what happens.
The reality is, unfortunately, that Project Power squanders its strong potential. Much like the short-lived effects of the titular drug itself, there are flashes of brilliance, interspersed between cheesy dialogue and random rap battles.
Set in New Orleans, the plot of Project Power is that there’s a new mystery drug on the black market. Power gives people literal superpowers for five minutes, but it’s a lucky packet. You don’t know what your power will be until you take the pill and taking the pill could kill you – horribly.
The story centres around three very different characters caught up in the fallout of Power flooding the underground. Local cop Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is at the end of his rope dealing with local criminals taking Power and killing cops, so he resorts to taking it himself. His dealer, Robin (Dominique Fishback), is a downtrodden teen from the wrong side of the tracks who aspires to be a rapper and deals Power to get money for her sick mom’s (legitimate) medication. And then there’s the mysterious Art (Jamie Foxx), a former soldier who is on a bloody mission – a mission that sees him cross paths with Frank and Robin.
Now that we’ve established our cookie-cutter characters lifted straight out of the tropes guidebook, lets delve a bit into why Project Power doesn’t scratch that superhero-action itch.
Firstly, Project Power doesn’t really trust its audience. The film doesn’t follow the “show, don’t tell” principle, it spells everything out in painfully dumbed down pseudo-science monologues or exposition heavy conversation between characters. The aforementioned monologue is also cheesy as heck, with silly motivations explained in even sillier ways.
Both Foxx & Gordon-Levitt are highly charismatic and relaxed actors, who at least make the most of what they’re given to work with. Some of the best scenes involve their characters bluffing their way through sticky situations – these are the moments of brilliance in between the rest of the clunky rubbish.
I will also give credit to the superpowers when shown on screen. I don’t know if the five-minute time limit is a plot device or just a way to keep the special effects budget in check, but when we do get to see people cut loose with their newfound abilities, it’s awesome to watch. Just a pity that we never see anyone using their powers often, or even more than once.
The biggest crime is that this film is just so uneven. Tonally, it changes from scene to scene, sometimes quippy, sometimes gritty, sometimes serious, sometimes flippant, and sometimes action blockbuster dumb. While there were actually just two people behind the camera – Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, best known for co-directing some of the later Paranormal Activity movies – and a single screenwriter in Mattson Tomlin, it feels like there were seven different filmmakers involved who all put their own spin on the various scenes shot and no one stitched it together properly.
Add to that, Project Power never truly explores its full potential, from actually using the superpowers more than just once and really showing off what they could do, to what the concept of the film could say about society as a whole. There are themes around exploitation, defying the system, inner power that could have given the film more resonance. By only glossing over these ideas without a full deep dive, the film instead feels hollow, with no substance or memorability.
Project Power positions itself as a hard, R-Rated superhero movie but something just feels off about the whole affair. Predictable plots and characters I can deal with if packaged with smarter dialogue or better action set pieces. Project Power lacks the latter two and was, overall, a very disappointing experience. Still better than Bright though.
Last Updated: August 14, 2020