Monday, March 12, 2012


Take the teen comedy “Can’t Hardly Wait” (1998) about an unruly house party, add a “Lethal Weapon IV” lunatic with a flame thrower, shoot it like “The Blair Witch Project,” and you’ve got freshman director Nima Nourizadeh’s outlandish opus “Project X” (*** out of ****) about a party-gone-wild.  Incidentally, “Hangover” director Todd Phillips, who produced this mammoth 88-minute mock-documentary, didn’t helm it. This R-rated, teensploitation tale about a high school student’s birthday party that escalates out of control is prudish compared with the “Hangover” movies. No transsexual prostitutes appear.  Nevertheless, the property damage is staggering. “Project X” delivers laugh-out-loud hilarity during its best moments, while some of its shenanigans amount to amusing contrivances. For example, drunken kids stuff a pugnacious dwarf into a kitchen oven.  After he escapes, the dwarf embarks on a genital punching rampage.  An anonymous but charismatic cast and the spontaneity with which events whirl out of control makes “Project X” an amoral but entertaining, white-knuckled rollercoaster of a comedy. Prepare yourself for displays of lewd, crude, rude, vulgar behavior wrapped up in general air of unreality. “Can’t Hardly Wait” meets “Porkys” best encapsulates “Project X.”  

Three North Pasadena high school students, Thomas Kub ( Thomas Mann), Costa (Oliver Cooper), and J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown), aren’t prepared for the consequences of a little birthday party that they are planning. Thomas is about to turn seventeen, and his foul-mouthed, best friend Costa wants to throw him a party. Of course, Costa sees Thomas’s birthday as nothing more than a ruse to invite dozens of sexy gals in tight clothes for a night out. Of course, Costa dreams about scoring, too. Costa hopes to hook his friend up with a hot chick and score a conquest of his own. Costa sends out text messages, e-mail blasts, and publishes the event on Craigslist. Initially, Thomas wanted no more than fifty people at his bash. He doesn’t want them inside his parents’ house, too. Imagine his surprise when between 1,500 and 2,000 people show up to celebrate his birthday and trash the premises! Ironically, Thomas’ bespectacled dad (Peter Mackenzie of “One Hour Photo”) shares the sentiments of many others who hold Thomas in contempt as a “loser.” He knows his son will invite some friends over while his wife and he are gone for the weekend.  Indeed, he forks over $40 in cash to buy pizzas. Naturally, he forbids Thomas from touching his Mercedes. Scenarists Matt Drake and Michael Bacall rely on Murphy’s Law in their clever screenplay. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Nevertheless, Nourizadeh and company paint our heroes as sympathetic but naive.

The party turns into an anarchic extravaganza. Before Thomas realizes it, guests overrun the house, clog the streets with their vehicles, and start shedding clothes. Two disc jockeys are spinning platters and playing club tunes. Hundreds of people are coming and going by the hour. Disgruntled neighbors are complaining about the racket. Costa has put a sign up that only naked women are allowed in the pool and the gals comply without a qualm. Thomas catches up with his favorite girl, Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton of “Scar”), and they get chummy at pool side. Things go awry later when he seduces campus hottie, Alexis (Alexis Knapp of “Couples Retreat’), and Kirby interrupts them. During a grocery store run before the bacchanal, our heroes encountered local high school baseball star Miles (Miles Teller of “Footloose”) and invite him. Miles agrees to bring the booze. Costa visits a paranoid guy named T-Rick (Rick Shapiro of “Pootie Tang”) and obtains Ecstasy pills. Costa steals a Santa Claus gnome that T-Rick treasures and stashes the synthetic amphetamines in it. What Costa isn’t prepared for is the rage that T-Rick unleashes when he visits Thomas' house to recover his prized possession. If this weren't enough, Costa has persuaded another high school kid named Dax (Dax Flame) to video the party. Essentially, “Project X” is seen from the perspective of Dax’s video camcorder, with shots from other cameras spliced in to capture the overall frenzy of the occasion. Whereas everybody else is pretty much who they are, Dax has an aura of mystery about him. Dax’s parents haven’t been seen in a long time, and he still attends school. He doesn’t drink and he dresses like a Goth from head to toe in black leather.

If “Project X” were just a raunchy version of “Can’t Hardly Wait” with people drank until they puked, it would be just another potboiler. The party itself provides the conflict as well as the setting for the conflict. The reactions of Thomas, Costa, and J.B. provide the humor. Thomas is catapulted from being just another nobody to a celebrity at his high school. Nerdy, overweight J.B. whose parents argue that he may be gifted in a belittling way probably grows more than his two friends over the course of the evening. Before everything goes up in smoke, J.B. emerges as a gigolo and a daredevil. He dives off Thomas’ roof with Dax’s camcorder and lands in the huge inflatable bouncy castle that Costa has furnished for the revelry. As funny as these three are, some of the supporting characters are scene stealers, particularly the two little guys in yellow windbreakers hired as security. They pop in an out of the proceedings and function more like ninja than security. One point they are prepared to torch a neighbor’s house because the owner threatens to call the cops.

Altogether, “Project X” is enormous fun. Reportedly, the filmmakers drew on an incident in Australia when a teen invited hundreds to his house while his parents were gone. No American film has attempted anything the magnitude of “Project X,” and director Nima Nourizadeh soft pedals the consequences of such an endeavor. In the end, what makes “Project X” memorable, rather than pointless nonsense which many will label it, is the reaction of Thomas’ father. “Project X” represents a definite hurdle for future house party movies to scale and a chilling cautionary tale to parents who entrust their property to their children while they are away.

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