Project Power (2020)
Directed by: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Written by: Mattson Tomlin
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback, Rodrigo Santoro, Courtney B. Vance, Amy Landecker
While Project Power certainly isn’t a bad movie, it also lacks the necessary touches to make it a very good one. The underlying concept of a drug that temporarily imbues humans with superpowers is an intriguing one. Throw in a talented cast that includes the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jamie Foxx, and Dominique Fishback in the leading roles, and you have at least several ingredients necessary to make your film a truly memorable one. Why, then, does it feel so bland in the end?
Its first flaw comes in its cinematography. Early on, we see that this is a film with an ugly color palette, with washed out hues and many shots framed in darkness. While this could possibly be a stylistic choice, it makes the film unpleasant to watch. More unpleasant still are the action sequences, which are confusingly and frantically edited, never pausing long enough to give the audience a sense of place.
It’s thankful that the principal actors are so charismatic. Even on the small screen, Foxx has an undeniable screen presence that’s more than ably matched by his co-star Fishback, the latter of whom is one of the film’s brighter highlights. Fishback plays Robin, a teenage drug dealer who pushes the superpower pills that form the backbone of the film’s plot. Watching her bounce between Foxx and Gordon-Levitt is always a pleasure, which is why it’s so unfortunate that the film’s plot doesn’t do justice by the concept or actors.
The trafficked superpower drugs unfortunately do little to enliven the otherwise dull story, which otherwise plays out like a bog standard 90s action movie. It even comes with a loose cannon cop and a vigilante who reluctantly put aside their differences in order to take down a greater evil!
If there’s anything audacious in Project Power, it’s how it plays every cliche from every 80s-90s action movie completely straight. This does actually lend the film a kind of charm, something that makes it feel more endearing than a completely joyless slog. But a film’s endearing qualities can only do so much to salvage the overall final product.
Finally, there are a few throwaway attempts at social commentary that actually come off as surprisingly nuanced. When Foxx’s Art explains to Robin the origin of the superhero drug, and the insidious way it’s been spread, there is a moment where a seed of fascinating social commentary begins to sprout. Alas, it’s just as soon chucked away so that the film can get back to further action sequences.
This sequence is what defines the film, in the end. The underwhelming nature of Project Power is not singularly due to any one factor in the film. Rather, it underwhelms because one gets the sense that every sequence and line was done in the name of further advancing the plot.
In a way, Project Power is the kind of movie where it’s difficult to inspire too great of a reaction. It’s neither great nor terrible. It simply is.