Review: ‘Project Power’ Lacks a Powerful Plot
By Daniel Rester
With its two charismatic leading men and a premise with a lot of promise, Project Power should have been a homerun. While its ingredients may still bring in the viewing numbers for Netflix, the film feels like a missed opportunity creatively. Why? It’s strapped with a search-for-a-child plot as obvious and bland as ever.
The setup by newcoming writer Mattson Tomlin is cool: a pill gives the taker an unpredictable superpower for five minutes. Unfortunately not much is done with it. We follow Art (Jamie Foxx), who has a connection to the pill’s origin and is searching for his daughter. He teams up with a New Orleans cop named Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a young drug dealer/aspiring rapper named Robin (Dominique Fishback). They follow standard thriller beats — with occasional superpowers thrown in — until they eventually face a villain named Dr. Gardner (Amy Landecker).
Project Power starts out decent enough. Gordon-Levitt is involved in the film’s best action scene early on. It’s a foot chase that ends with a bullet bouncing off of someone’s head. There’s also Foxx taking on musician Machine Gun Kelly as a sub-villain with fire powers. These set pieces feel like the start of a superhero movie ready to take off. The visual effects are also pretty strong in the first act too.
Things start to peter out soon after those scenes. Dr. Gardner always feels like a distant and unmenacing threat. Before getting to her during a climax in a dockyard (of course), our three heroes go around picking up clues that lead to unsurprising surprises. There’s an attempt to build a father-daughter-like relationship between Art and Robin, but while Foxx and Fishback have chemistry the writing doesn’t back up their strengths. The ending also makes it so Robin didn’t even feel necessary as a character for the script.
Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who teamed for such films as Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) and Nerve (2016), do make Project Power look handsome. The film has clean wide shots and action. There are also bits they have fun with, such as a moment involving a liquor dispenser and another scene involving the power of a pistol shrimp. But there ultimately isn’t enough energy here to make up for the script’s shortcomings.
In a world where superhero movies are currently very popular, it’s welcome when one comes along that tries to mix up the formula. While Project Power changes the superhero touches, it stays completely formulaic in terms of how it unfolds. Foxx and Gordon-Levitt deserve better.
My Grade: 5.2/10 (letter grade equivalent: C)
MPA Rating: R (for violence, bloody images, drug content and some language)
Running Time: 1h 53min
USA Release Date: August 14th, 2020 (Netflix release)