At least as far back as “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” the crazy party has been a staple of teen cinema, whether it’s the debauchery of “Sixteen Candles” and “Weird Science” or the high-school microcosm of “Can’t Hardly Wait.”
In terms of sheer bacchanalia, the festivities of “Project X” have raised the cinematic bar: future movies that don’t unleash topless teen girls in a bounce-house or set the neighborhood on fire need not apply.
Oh, and if you were already sick and tired of the first-person camera shtick trotted out earlier this year by “The Devil Inside” and “Chronicle,” too bad, because here comes yet another movie that’s supposedly being shot by its subjects — even though at one point you’ll begin to wonder who was underwater and who was out on the front lawn filming all this footage.
Ultimately, “Project X” winds up being simultaneously entertaining and irritating, like a soirée with great food, charming guests, and a loud and awful band. There are plenty of laughs, to be sure, but they’re surrounded by tired ideas, sexist privilege and annoying camerawork.
Seemingly borrowing from “Superbad,” the film gives us a leading trio of the Nerd (Thomas Mann as Thomas), the Loudmouth (Oliver Cooper’s Costa) and the Fat One (Jonathan Daniel Brown as JB), who decide to lift themselves out of high-school anonymity by throwing the mother of all parties to celebrate Thomas’ birthday when his parents leave town for the weekend.
Actually, Costa’s the one with the big plans. Thomas just wants 20 … maybe 30 … OK, 50 people tops, and they have to stay in the backyard, and no hard drugs. Naturally, all of those guidelines go out the window over the course of the evening, thanks to a Craigslist notice and a stolen garden gnome that happens to be filled with Ecstasy tablets.
The best of the teen movies, from the John Hughes oeuvre to “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” to “Mean Girls,” all have (gasp!) female protagonists, or at least girl characters with minds and voices of their own. “Project X” can’t really be bothered with that sort of thing — the only ladies who get dialogue of any substance are the Pretty Best Pal (Kirby Bliss Blanton) and Hot Slut (Alexis Knapp) who have both caught Thomas’ eye.
Beyond that, the fairer sex is just there to whip off their tops, jump in the pool, and maybe make out with each other.
(These kids apparently attend Actress-Model High School, where the guys run the gamut from hot to dorky, but practically every female is skinny, stacked and ready to flash their racks to apparently dozens of video cameras and phones that are capturing all the action.)
Still, I laughed consistently from beginning to end, both at the slow destruction of Thomas’ house and at the random cast of neighbors and strangers who wander in and out of the action. (If you’re a homeowner, “Project X” will be a horror movie to rival “The Exorcist.”) But after a while, I wished the film’s sexism and its smug entitlement weren’t making the chuckles catch in my throat.
It could be argued that “Project X” isn’t designed for anyone over the age of 30, and I’d willingly concede the point. But even its target teen audience should think twice about the movie’s subtext. Or heck, even its text: Seriously, kids, don’t try this at home.