Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Dean Israelite
Stars: Jonny Weston, Sofia Black d’Elia, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, Virginia Gardner, Amy Landecker, Gary Weeks, Gary Grubbs.
This sci-fi teen drama involving time travel is like Back To The Future for the Twitter generation.
David Raskin (Jonny Weston) is something of a science geek who has inherited his late father’s passion for creating and building gadgets and experimenting. In order to win a scholarship to MIT he has to create something spectacular. While rummaging through his father’s belongings stored in the attic he discovers an old video camera. When viewing it he discovers footage that clearly shows him as a teenager in the background at his own 7th birthday party a decade earlier. How was this possible?
Further investigation leads David to a hitherto undiscovered workshop and makeshift laboratory in the basement, and some blueprints and designs for a time travel device. David and his friends decide to build the device and test it. When they learn that it actually works they decide to travel back in time. One of the rules they establish though is that they all “jump” together. At first they use the device to thwart school bullies, ace tests and of course win the lottery. But then they venture a little further back in time, to a memorable Lollapalooza concert. And that is when David begins to play around with the time space continuum for purely selfish reasons.
Disregarding one of their prime rules he ventures back in time alone and throws everything out of whack. Changing the past sends out ripples that disrupt the future. Trying to repair the damage will test his friendships.
This is the feature debut for director Dean Israelite, who brings plenty of energy to the material. There was the germ of a good idea here, but cinematographer Matthew J Lloyd has shot the film in that distracting, overly kinetic, vertiginous multiple points-of-view hand held camera of the found footage genre that seems to be the favoured format for a lot of younger directors raised on a diet of MTV style music videos. Or maybe that is just the way they are taught at film schools these days. Whatever, I have grown tired of the whole concept. This would have been a far better film had it been shot in more conventional fashion.
Project Almanac is a lesser entry in the time travel/found footage canon. Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure, which can be seen playing the background of a couple of scenes should have been a key touchstone for first time writers Andrew Deutschman and Jason Pagan, who have also penned the script for the next installment of found footage series Paranormal Activity. They have obviously studied numerous time travel movies for inspiration, including Time Cop, which is referred to several times, Looper, the Terminator films, but here they offer up a number of under developed ideas.
And this found footage scenario was done much better in the recent Chronicle, another teen sci-fi drama which had far more style and substance. Michael Bay is one of the producers here through his Platinum Dunes company, which accounts for its frantic pace and energy, and also its lack of originality.
Project Almanac seems aimed squarely at today’s generation who are used to living their life via social media and documenting every little thing they do. As usual, everything seems filmed as it happens, but there is no sense of how it was edited together afterwards. At least the Paranormal Activity series gets that aspect right.
The good looking and youthful no-name cast do what is expected of them. Weston in particular shines as David, and he has enough charisma and charm to make the role believable. Allen Evangelista provides some comic relief with his perky performance as David’s nerdy best friend Quinn, while Sofia Black d’Elia serves as Jessie, a romantic interest for David, but she is really given little to do beyond looking sultry and alluring.
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