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Project Power review: Superhero drama fails to thrill

Project Power is a whole mess of forgettable characters and middling action sequences that squanders a potentially interesting premise.

The hardest movies to write about are not the good ones, and they’re certainly not the bad ones. It’s easy to speak with adoration about splendid performances, or to sharpen your rhetorical knives to carve up some incompetent editing. No, the real challenge arises from movies that are simply fine: those movies where the acting is tolerable, the story and writing are competent and unremarkable, the action is merely adequate.  Project Power is one of those movies – it left me floating in the netherealm between gruntled and disgruntled.

The film’s plot revolves around a drug called – can you guess? – “Power”, which grants the user a five-minute window to X-Men cosplay. Depending on each user’s genome, Power grants a random archetypical superhero power to each user, including control of fire, ice, or chameleon skin, and some users simply explode in a gory mess.  Perhaps the film’s single strongest element is the depiction of these powers, as characters transform into well designed comic book concoctions. The premise, here, has potential, but it is executed in the blandest manner possible.

Jamie Foxx (Collateral), our lead, plays a man with a history – revealed in dopey flashbacks – who is extremely dedicated to finding the source of the drug. Foxx brings his usual “too cool for this shit” vibe to the performance. He swaggers around in tight shirts and fancy sunglasses, only briefly dropping his movie star mode into a more human gear in his scenes with Dominique Fishback (HBO’s The Deuce).  Fishback is the film’s strongest performer as an aspiring high school rapper, more focused on rhymes than grades,, who has turned to selling Power to help pay for medical treatments for her mother. She is the only performer clearly attempting to play in a human key – every other performance is so arch that she seems transported from a more believable film.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt ((500) Days of Summer, 7500), an actor I generally love, seems tripped up by a dopey New Orleans accent, as a cop who dabbles in Power to better perform his job. His take on a superhero cop gives a disappointing preview of what a Robin movie could have looked like if Christopher Nolan had spunoff his Batman films.

loud and clear reviews Project Power netflix

Of course, you come to something like this for the action scenes. Like everything else about the film, they are a mixed bag. For every moment of visual swagger, such as a drug dealer (Machine Gun Kelly of Beyond the Lights)’s skin slowly being consumed by fire as his powers kick into place, there is an equal and opposite disappointment, like his big, flame powered action scene dissolving into a choppy, indecipherable editing morass. A very cool chameleon skin effect is accompanied by a nonsensical chase scene. The film’s best action sequence sees a woman slowly consumed by her ice powers – complete with a Frozen joke – as Foxx fights various bad guys outside her windowed enclosure. The action climax drags badly, and is consumed by ineffectual CGI.

It is interesting to compare this film with The Old Guard, Netflix’s other big budget Summer superhero movie. The Old Guard seeks to elevate the genre with notes of genuine humanity, by focusing on each character’s history and emotional arc. Conversely, Project Power is saddled with lazy clichés wherein serious character developments are dispatched with platitudes. Even when Project Power attempts to touch upon real world issues – Foxx explains to Fishback that, as a black woman, “the system is designed to swallow you whole” – the film just pays lip service to any sort of actual human consideration. The class warfare possibilities of superpowers for a cost are potentially fascinating, but Project Power is content to address them with lazy “last good cop” and “man on a mission” narratives.

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