The 400-Word Review: Project Almanac
By Sean Collier
February 3, 2015
If nothing else, I’m now fully convinced that teenagers should not be given access to time travel devices.
In Project Almanac, David (Jonny Weston) and Christina (Virginia Gardner) happen upon their father’s old video camera; he died in a car crash on David’s seventh birthday. Which makes it unusual that David, as a 17-year-old, appears on the tape in the camera — at his own childhood party. Some digging reveals that dear old Dad was a DARPA scientist close to finishing a time-travel device — and David is just the precocious nerd to finish the job.
What’s refreshing (and surprising) about Project Almanac is that the teens don’t use their powers to save the world or correct injustices; they mainly use them to (politely) party, get out of trouble and improve their social standing. Christina takes revenge on a school bully; Quinn (Sam Lerner) takes a half-dozen or so passes at a chemistry final until he gets it right. In the thread that surprisingly emerges as the central narrative, David sneaks his crew out of a school day for a trip to Lollapalooza — and then doubles back there again to avoid blowing it with longtime crush Jessie (Sofia Black D'Elia).
Like many time-travel movies, the eventual conflict is a round of over-correction for butterfly effects (Project Almanac actually makes it to the end with a relatively small number of paradoxes). But its strength is also an occasional drawback; with no clear goal and relatively low stakes until the time-space continuum starts getting mucked up, the film drags, at 106 minutes that could’ve been 85.
Unfortunately, the producers of Project Almanac — Michael Bay among them — opted for a found-footage format. The style is overplayed at this point; innovative uses (like last year’s As Above So Below) can still work, but in Project Almanac, it seems more like a way to keep the budget down than anything. (At one point, Jessie says the line that marks every unnecessary found-footage project: “You guys really film everything, huh?”)
Director Dean Israelite, on his first feature, would’ve been wise to assert himself a bit more; the film feels rudderless, and little artfulness is to be found behind the camera. Nevertheless, a relatively fresh story and a game cast of young talent make Project Almanac watchable and inoffensive. That’s not exactly the sort of endorsement that goes on the poster, but it’ll do.
My Rating: 6/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark