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Movie Review

Project X

‘Project X’ delivers mayhem, odd moral

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By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / March 2, 2012
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Despite the title, there’s nothing top secret about “Project X.’’ All it’s about is three high-school boys who throw a party for the sex and fame it could bring them. The title was just a placeholder until the filmmakers came up with something better. Oh well. The party itself is something to see. A Pasadena blowout turns into a horny, druggy, apocalyptic scene culminating in riot police, news choppers, and a gentleman with a flamethrower.

The movie is another that’s been filmed using the camera of a character who must be present for every scene, except for when someone else’s camera or phone or the filmmakers themselves take over. Here, that guy is Dax (Dax Flame), who, in the one shot of him that we get, appears to be a handsome goth and would, in reality, have more exciting things to do than trail loudmouth native New Yorker Costa (Oliver Cooper), randy butterball J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown), and virginal Thomas (Thomas Mann), who’s also the birthday boy.

Dax is part of this movie’s vast social and moral fantasy in which handsome guys are creeps or bullies, plain girls don’t exist, and pretty ones obligingly remove their tops before flinging themselves into the pool. He’s also the device that allows us to eavesdrop as Thomas’s father tells Thomas’s mother not to worry about leaving their son alone in their very nice home while they spend the weekend celebrating their anniversary: “He’s a loser,’’ says dad, reassuringly. Later, Dax allows us to be there when, during the party, Thomas’s best friend, an interesting blonde named Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton), walks in on Thomas as he hooks up with an eager, dark-haired girl (Alexis Knapp).

That device shows flashes of a director’s talent. Nima Nourizadeh made this movie from a script by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall. This is Nourizadeh’s first movie assignment after years of commercials and music videos. Every once in a while, he’ll orchestrate something sly and amusing like an antic party-supply trip that captures a reaction shot from an offended cashier. And once in a while, you get a real sense that something psychotic is in the air. Mostly, you see all this point-and-shoot style, and wonder what the major studios are up in arms about. They worry that their films will wind up illegally on the Internet but give us movies that look like they originated there. Too often we’re not watching a filmmaker. We’re watching someone press record.

“Project X’’ is at its most comfortable when it’s watching people move and misbehave. The rumps, tongues, breasts, Ecstasy, X-rated rap, plastic cups, and general bleariness: They’re the director’s sweet spot. This is a music video, a commercial, a deluxe MySpace page, with knockoffs of the boys from “Superbad.’’

“Project X’’ was produced by Todd Phillips, the director of the two “Hangover’’ movies, both of which ended with a slideshow of its trio’s debauched binge. The montage was the movie Phillips and the screenwriters should have made instead. “Project X’’ is basically a movie of that montage. It’s determined to make you forget “Animal House,’’ “House Party,’’ and “Can’t Hardly Wait.’’ It wants to be the “Die Hard’’ of party movies, and it is.

Like Phillips’s other productions, this one downplays the legal and personal consequences of the party and celebrates the glory of having achieved it. It’s a moral likely to send insurance companies scrambling to revise their party clauses.

Also: It’s hard to watch this shock mayhem, in which kids run for their lives and which has been made to look both professional and knowingly execrable, and not think about how true news video and amateur footage have documented political uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. Or how, in the 1990s, that footage captured riots in South Los Angeles. In “Project X,’’ you see similar destruction and anarchy used to bestow popularity upon three boys and think, “What a waste.’’

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

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PROJECT X

Directed by: Nima Nourizadeh

Written by: Matt Drake and Michael Bacall

Starring: Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown, and Kirby Bliss Blanton

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 88 minutes

Rated: R (crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, drugs, drinking, pervasive language, reckless behavior and mayhem - all involving teens)

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