PROJECT POWER (2020)
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.
Project Power is a Netflix Original that tries to blend the ever-popular superhero genre with a straightforward action film. The setup could be lifted from a graphic novel, while the narrative plays like your standard hyper-violent revenge flick. After viewing, many will agree it had potential but the results are mixed.
The story opens with the arrival of a mysterious shipment of “power” pills at a seaport in New Orleans. These narcotics are delivered to a handful of selected street dealers by the mysterious Biggie (Rodrigo Santoro), and taking one endows the user with superhuman abilities, but only for five minutes… if the pill doesn’t kill you, as some users overdose in horrific ways. Later on, we find the introduction of these pills had a dramatic impact on the city, as there are reports of criminals with superhuman abilities everywhere as an overwhelmed police force try to cope.
Enter cop Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who’s so dedicated to protecting New Orleans that he resorts to taking the pills to unleash his own special “power.” His unlikely teenage supplier’s a loner called Robin (Dominique Fishback), who only sells the drug to make money to support her chronically ill mother.
After a brief introduction to both characters, Frank makes the fateful decision to use a pill to help singlehandedly thwart an armed robbery by a super-powered criminal. Although he does apprehend the felon, several officers and his boss witness Frank deflect a bullet off his head at a point-blank range…. and that’s enough to force him into returning his badge for breaking some poorly-explained rule that only the bad guys are allowed to have superpowers!
Frank and Robin are both brought back into the action by another newcomer in town, Art/The Major (Jamie Foxx). He’s looking for information about his missing daughter and wastes no time cracking skulls and spraying bullets to get it. But it’s not long before The Major realises he can’t do it alone and needs Robin’s help in finding the source of the drugs (which is directly tied to the whereabouts of his daughter), so Robin reaches out to Frank and we have our makeshift trio of heroes.
By far the best performance in Project Power belongs to Fishback. She delivers with the same dramatic intensity as she did with The Hate You Give (2018). Unfortunately, this film doesn’t deserve her talent. She runs circles around Foxx and Gordon-Levitt, however, as both Frank and The Major feel like a bad mashup of action cliches. Neither actor look like they’re fully invested in the film. Gordon-Levitt is flat out robotic in his performance (particularly in the first half) and Foxx’s character is indistinguishable from other roles he’s played in Sleepless (2017) and Miami Vice (2006).
One of the greatest contributions to the industry Netflix provides is giving opportunities to young storytellers. Many writers and directors got their break in Hollywood sooner than they might have otherwise because Netflix and its streaming rivals provided them with a golden opportunity to get an original film made. But not everyone is ready to make such a big jump.
Project Power is written by 30-year-old Mattson Tomlin, a writer-director from Romania who likely has a bright future ahead of him. He’s already produced 10 shorts that have drawn promising feedback, so Tomlin even got to work with Matt Reeves on the screenplay for his hotly anticipated movie The Batman.
But Project Power is a story that would’ve benefited from the guidance of a veteran screenwriter, or even the use of a script doctor. An old-hand may have helped Tomlin clean up some of his cliched plot points and made him flesh out the more interesting characters. His three protagonists have so much potential, but end up feeling like cheap imitations of comic-book inspirations that are so more interesting.
The film is directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Catfish), who also made Nerve (2016), another film that didn’t live up to its promise. There are sequences in Project Power that are certainly thrilling to behold, but it’s during the slower scenes that contain the meat of the narrative where their direction feels bland and lifeless. It seems clear these young directors love to create flashy action scenes, but everything in-between poses a problem.
Overall, Project Power is a more of a B Movie action retread than it should have been. In a summer where audiences are yearning to scratch that action blockbuster itch, this should have been an easy hit for home audiences. But it just isn’t that compelling despite the talent of the actors. For those who don’t mind disposable entertainment that doesn’t quite merit a theatrical run, this might be for you…. but for everyone else, skipping Project Power won’t be the worst decision you’ll make.
USA | 2020 | 113 MINUTES | 2.00:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
directors: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman.
writer: Mattson Tomlin.
starring: Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback, Rodrigo Santoro, Colson Baker, Allen Maldonado, Amy Landecker & Courtney B. Vance.