PROJECT X:  Not Even For Free – Don’t RSVP
How is it that no one has yet produced a 3D found-footage movie?  You’d think the combination of the most (usually) mind-numbing gimmicks of the past decade would be a commercially sure bet, but so far it’s an untapped market.
Meanwhile we have PROJECT X, which advances the found-footage genre in a particularly banal way.  The original concept of the “found-footage” movie (which, in a sense, dates all the way back to epistolary novels that purported to be mere reprints of actual letters) was that it increased the “reality” of the stories it was telling, and thus it’s mostly been used to make the supernatural more convincing:  in horror movies like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, and more recently with the science-fiction ChronicleProject X, though, is just a dumb teen party movie, rife with cliches and completely unremarkable other than its bare nod to being “filmed” by a couple of the participants.

The very basic set-up is that Thomas (Thomas Mann–several of the characters bear the same names as the actors who play them, presumably to boost verisimiltude) will be alone for his birthday weekend in his family’s big North Pasadena house, because his parents are out of town.  Thomas is too much of a bland nice guy who do anything illicit on his own, but that’s what troublemaking best friends in movies are for, and here that’s Costa (Oliver Cooper), who likes to wax nostalgically about the glamor of his old life in Queens (has anyone associated with this movie ever been to Queens?) and who talks Thomas into a birthday party for the ages.  Also along for the ride is JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown), whose character consists of being fat, and we occasionally glimpse Dax (Dax Flame), who’s theoretically recording all this on video.
One of Project X‘s selling points is that its producer is Hangover director Todd Phillips, but the promise of shocking  scandal or genuine envelope-pushing is unrealized.  This party goes out of control in all the most predictable ways–drugs, drinking, topless girls, bodily functions–until the last 10 minutes, when things go ludicrously over the top thanks to a crazy character who reappears from earlier in the story.  Even though the picture is a “hard R,” it’s notable–and characteristic of American movies–that our 3 protagonists are only seen drinking to excess, their drug use limited to a comic interlude and none of them managing to get laid.  In fact, Thomas is such a good, sweet guy, and the movie is so devoted to cliches, that although he supposedly wanted the party to have sex with hot girls, and has the chance to do so with the school’s official Babe, in the end he realizes that the (equally gorgeous) girl he’s known since childhood (Kirby Bliss Blanton as “Kirby”) and since ignored, even though she banters with him while casting cow-eye glances his way, is really the girl of his heart.  In other words, we know the writers have seen Some Kind of Wonderful.
There’s nothing dramatically interesting or even mildly subversive in Project X, and it’s certainly not worth seeing for the quality of the filmmaking.  The “found-footage” genre permits less talented directors to have an excuse for letting their movies look like crap, and first-timer Nima Nourizadeh makes ample use of that license, resulting in 88 amateurish minutes of shaky footage, periodically interrupted by music video montages that resemble outtakes.  While many found-footage pictures are, or at least try to appear to be, heavily improvised, Project X is clearly shot from a full script by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall; their dialogue makes improv look good.
If Project X were shot in a conventional way, it would probably go straight to homevideo.  Filmed with what still, to some audiences, seems like a new “cool” style, it’s likely to make millions this weekend (it’s already grossed over $1M in midnight shows on Thursday) and turn a decent profit on its low $12M budget.  There may not be one born every minute, but there’s certainly one buying a movie ticket.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."