Project Almanac (dir. Dean Israelite)

Posted: February 13, 2015 in Uncategorized

“Project Almanac” ultimately suffers because the writers couldn’t be bothered to deal with a very glaring paradox of time travel.  If I travel back in time to, say, go to a concert, and I blow my chance to kiss the hot girl I have a crush on, I may want to go back and try it again.  The main character, David (Jonny Weston) feels this way, so he goes back and does it again successfully.  The problem?  If he went back again, HE WOULD HAVE RUN INTO THE PREVIOUS TIME TRAVELING VERSION OF HIMSELF BLOWING IT!!!  The characters do run into past versions of themselves, but they never run into previous time traveling versions of themselves, and once I realize the film was either too lazy or too busy to consider this, I kind of checked out of the whole affair.  There are other time travel issues with the film, namely why the “found footage” of this film even exists by the end, but the aforementioned not-running-into-your-traveling-self thing was the worst.

A found footage time travel movie was an interesting idea, but I say that as a man who is a sucker for time travel movies.  While many are tired of the whole found footage thing by now, my love of “Chronicle”, the super-powered Columbine movie, made me want to check out this MTV-powered spin on the old sci-fi chestnut of going back in time and screwing things up.  It’s been about a decade since the underrated “The Butterfly Effect”, a film which was unfairly maligned because of the casting of Ashton Kutcher, but that film largely did time travel and the negative consequences thereof quite well.  “Almanac”, even more teenybopper aimed and saddled with a hindering PG-13 rating, shares the short-sightedness and immaturity of its teenaged protagonists.  While David is supposed to be some sort of genius wunderkind who gets into MIT, he makes rather rudimentary time travel mistakes for myopic, selfish reasons (a hot girl), and myopic selfishness is really the connecting thread here.  I do like that the film has a small, realistic twist on the kid-gets-accepted-to-college set up of many youth-aimed films: David can’t afford to go.  We also get an unemployed single parent, which when contrasted with 80s and early 90s films like “How I Got into College” shows how depressing the modern world has become for our youth.  Back in the 80s kids were worried about playing hooky (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”), now they have to worry about whether mom has to sell the house to pay for my college.

The film gives us a far-too-long sequence, practically the entire first act, of David, his sister Christine (Virginia Gardner), and his two nerdy friends Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Ben (Gary Weeks) figuring out how to make an incomplete time machine found in David’s basement work.  The machine was being developed by the government a decade ago by David’s dad, but it was never finished, possibly due to the dad’s death.  Since time travel is not real, the fake science behind making the machine work in the film is almost beside the point. The film really only needs to give us a semi-plausible faux explanation for us to get on board, since we’ve already agreed to watch a time travel movie. Instead, the film gives us scene after scene of the kids testing the machine out with small batteries, then car batteries, then batteries and hydrogen stolen from their high school (my high school didn’t have hydrogen), then the graphics processor from an Xbox, and so on and so forth.  They eventually get stuff to work using the battery from a hybrid car belonging to the girl David has a crush on, Jessie (Sophia Black D’Elia), and after some testing, we finally get time traveling kids.

The biggest catch is that they can’t go too far back into the past, a few weeks tops, though David wants to push things to about 10 years after finding his present self on an old recording of his 7th birthday.  For a while, they do stupid kid stuff like try to pass a test they previously failed.  Christine, who I don’t believe for a second would actually be bullied when she looks like a beautiful, blonde model (as the actress is) gets back at her bullies, despite the film awkwardly telling us she’s being bullied without previously showing it, thus not really having the audience care when she gets her way.  The funniest of these experiments, given away in the trailer, has the kids winning the lottery but accidentally only getting 4 of the 5 numbers, and we see them sadly take part in a winner’s photo shoot showing off their meager $1.8 million winnings.

The biggest thing the kids really do is go back in time to go to a concert, Lollapalooza.  The film then gives us a way too long, extended montage of these kids having a good time while Imagine Dragons and other bands play songs that were popular while the film was being made as the product placed Coke products are given almost as much screen time as the plentiful PG-13-friendly teenage female flesh (legs are given prominence, as are the bikinied bodies of various women. If the film was going to try to be spank bank material for teen boys, it should have just gone for the R).  Honestly, while I enjoyed seeing Virginia Gardner in a bikini, the concert sequence goes on far too long and, really, is this the best thing you kids can think to do with your amazing time machine?

Eventually, the unforeseen negative effects of time travel rear their ugly heads, though the film does a poor job of explaining why certain negative events happen as a result of innocuous changes in the time line.  The film also never gives us an explanation, convincing or otherwise, for why running into your past self would cause both you and your past self to flicker and disappear?  When “Timecop” came up with the rule of not being able to touch your past self because “the same matter cannot occupy the same space” it didn’t need to make any scientific sense because it sounded like it made sense, and that’s all I really ask from a movie like this: good sounding bullshit to enjoy my time travel fantasy. “Project Almanac” fails to do even that.

The film is plenty fun to watch and I found the characters very likeable, even if having both Quinn and Ben in the film feels superfluous when both characters could have been combined into one with no loss to the film.  I just wish the writers, Jason Harry Pagan and Andrew Deutschman, had done more to explain the negative consequences the kids render, explained a few rules they come up with, spent less time at a concert and more with cool time traveling experiences, and spent less time with the kids testing and building the machine.  This film needed another writer to come in and polish what could have been a perfectly decent time travel story for teens and tweens.  The director, Dean Israelite, does a serviceable job with the found footage direction, keeping things from getting to shaky and nausea-inducing, though his leering at the legs and torsos of scantily clad teen girls comes off as a bit odd and unnecessary.

“Project Almanac” is an okay effort that could have been more with a slightly more punched up script, but the likeable characters make the film enjoyable enough. C+

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