Project Power (2020) Review!!

Synopsis – When a pill that gives its users unpredictable superpowers for five minutes hits the streets of New Orleans, a teenage dealer and a local cop must team with an ex-soldier to take down the group responsible for its creation.

My Take – With shifts in theatrical release dates and moves to VOD service, no thanks to everything that is happening around us, films in general has been taking a killing this year, no matter the genre. Yes, some low budgeted horror films have been attracting massive eye balls, which they probably wouldn’t have under normal circumstances, but I am pretty confident of the fact that I may not be the only one who is missing the general big screen, popcorn eating and comfy seats experience.

Thankfully, Netflix has been churning out faux blockbusters that are at least providing the whiff of escapism from the real world. And this latest film from directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman is definitely the closest to what we’ve been missing out on. It’s got superpowers, style, some measure of attitude and a real sense of social conscience, and I was delighted by it at nearly every single turn.

Sure, Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn and Bloodshot, the only superhero films to release this year, found their own form of appreciation for finding a fresh angle on one of cinema’s most over-saturated genres, however, what makes this Netflix action-thriller stand apart is its own intriguing tweak to the superhero mythos.

Yes, it is not a perfect, drags a bit and is nearly predictable, nonetheless the film is also extremely entertaining. Predominantly because of the stellar cast which includes Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon Levitt, who had their own tryst with superhero world before in the form of The Amazing SpiderMan 2 (2014) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), and of course, there are some gorgeous effects to lap up. Seriously if you are itching to see something new in the genre, I can’t recommend this enough as the core concept is great and makes for an intriguing watch.

Set in New Orleans, the story follows Robin (Dominique Fishback), a plucky high-schooler and wannabe rapper who has ventured into the world of drug dealing in order to help provide the necessary medical treatment for her diabetic mom. The much in demand drug she has been dealing is called Power, which is nothing like anyone has ever seen before. Once you activate it and take it, you get superpowers for exactly five minutes.

And with the drug empowering the previously powerless, there is just too much crime and chaos to contain, however, Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a police officer, is determined to clean things up, and in order to do so he has been consuming the drug himself to level the playing field. However, things get further complicated when a mysterious individual named The Major (Jamie Foxx), abducts Robin, all in order to reach the source of the drug.

It takes a while, but with a set-up like that in the script, it’s not going to surprise anybody that these three folks are somehow going to come together. Frank will do so with a streak of severity as well as a twinkle in his eye. The Major will go about it with an air of grim determination. Robin may appear to be in over her head, but there’s every reason to believe that she’ll work things out. There will be others around this trio of protagonists, some of them helping, most of them getting in the way.

Without a doubt, the film is pretty lightweight and frivolous, barely paying even lip-service to the ideas of morality and consequence, but Netflix aren’t exactly known for their subtlety in productions, and there’s a very pleasant through-line of family, loss and sacrifice which does a particularly good job at informing The Major’s character, giving it just enough meat to hold together the innovative action sequences, and to keep you engaged even when a little bit more judicious editing could have left this a leaner animal.

But I couldn’t help but wonder what else the drug can do, why it has such varied effects, how it came to be in the first place, and basically wanted to know everything about it. The specialty of the Power drug is that you never know what superpower it will give you. It can be something cool like camouflage or self-healing or destructive like lava. The only question is whether that is a risk you are willing to take.

When talking about pills and powers, you might be reminded of ‘Limitless’ but this film is nothing like that. Here, the pills are in the hands of drug junkies and they use the power to commit more crimes.

The unpredictability of the powers lead to hit-and-miss (but mostly hit) action sequences that are largely imaginative in their depiction of individuals who span the spectrum of fire to ice, bullet-proof to, well, just exploding. Thankfully, the weird physicality and bizarre consequences of the powers the pill bestows are realized in a very fun way, and this styling extends to every character, for instance, Frank, who becomes invulnerable every time he takes the pill, sports a bloodshot eye for the rest of the film after taking a bullet point-blank in one of his temples. It’s easy to see where every dollar of the film’s reported $85 million dollar budget was spent, and pretty much all of it was used wisely.

Sure, the invisible/bendy-light guy is a bit goofy, but Foxx‘s introduction is a very literal blast, and they clearly blow the entire budget on a single slow motion shot in the final act, whilst Levitt charmingly channels Eastwood to a fun effect. And considering this is a superhero film, much of it is dependent on the special effects, which is does nicely. With the highlight being the scene where a woman slowly turns into a block of ice inside a reinforced contained while there’s a huge fight taking place outside. The scene is shot from the inside, and is such fun to watch.

While I cannot fault the concept and the way the characters were handled, I personally felt that the film was just short of groundbreaking. It was trying to be different from other superhero films but fell into the third act trap. The finale could have used more of the storytelling that was seen throughout, but instead goes down the routine good vs bad guys and saving someone process.

Delightfully, the performances are one of the better things here. Jamie Foxx brings his natural charisma, and shares great chemistry with Dominique Fishback, who in turn has some fabulously sharp rap moments which are surprisingly well integrated into the comic-book style feature. Though it initial seems like Joseph Gordon-Levitt has ended up with the short stick, he does enough to keep the limelight glued on him to unsurprisingly elevate the feature. In other roles, Rodrigo Santoro, Amy Landecker, Kyanna Simone Simpson, Andrene Ward-Hammond, Colson Baker aka Machine Gun Kelly and Courtney B. Vance are also good. On the whole, ‘Project Power’ is a fun enough action packed thriller with an interesting concept to keep you pleasantly engaged.

Directed – Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman

Starring – Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback

Rated – R

Run Time – 117 minutes

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