So you find a time machine in the basement, what do you do next? Director Dean Israelite and writers Jason Pagan and Andrew Deutschman try to answer that question as if posed to a group of idiot teenagers. The result is a movie that is more in line with Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and The Butterfly Effect than it is films like Primer, Looper and Predestination.
David Raskin (Johnny Weston) is a seventeen year old science prodigy who wants to go to M.I.T. but though he is accepted he does not get the full ride scholarship he needs so that he can attend. So he roots around the attic in the hopes of finding something of his late inventor dad’s that he can parley into a scholarship. What he and his sister Christina (Virginia Gardner) do find is an old video camera that contains footage of David’s seventh birthday party, but what is startling is that on this footage is a shot of seventeen year old David caught in a reflection. This leads to David and Christina checking out their dad’s basement lab and the discovery of a temporal relocation device, aka time machine.
Right there my suspension of disbelief is challenged, not them finding a time machine hidden in the basement that’s totally cool, no what I don’t buy is the fact they we are supposed to believe that this science geek has not been in this lab during the past ten years since his scientist father died because he was told not to by his mom. This is worse than Richard Parker’s subway lab in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 because at least that was hidden while this one was in the freakin basement! For a science geek David has very little curiosity.
David brings his two best friends Adam (Allen Evangelista) and Quinn (Sam Lerner) into this and with the aid of his videographer sister they plan to finish his father’s work. Time travel is some tricky shit to write as anything you do will raise questions of “cause and effect” and of course paradoxes, this film takes those things about as seriously as Bill and Ted did. They immediately decide to use the device for personal gain; Quinn wants to re-take a test so that his academic path will be smoother, Christine uses it to thwart some bullies, Adam to win the lottery “duh” but it’s when David tries to use it to win the affections of his long time crush Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia) things take a turn for the worse.
Turns out when David tries to “Groundhog Day” his way into Jessie’s pants the resulting butterfly effect has some devastating effects. This film could have gone in an interesting direction as our intrepid group of teens tries to deal with the cosmic ramifications of their invention, but instead we get a twenty minute commercial for Lollapalooza that stops the movie dead in its tracks. Project Almanac goes for cheap time-travel gags and not much else. They don’t even try to explain how if you repeatedly go back in time to the exact same spot why aren’t you constantly running into multiple versions of yourself from the previous trips?
Many will compare this film to Josh Trank’s Chronicle but the use of found footage in that film seemed organic while in Project Almanac much of the time the filming of events is beyond stupid. At one point this gang of idiots realize they need hydrogen to power the time machine so they break into their high school science department to get it. AND THEY FILM THE ENTIRE CRIME! It’s one thing to want to document this wonderful scientific discovery you are making for the sake of posterity, but you may want to leave out the parts that involve felonies. Of course the biggest stumbling block to the found footage genre is justifying why characters are carrying around a camera and filming everything, and this film doesn’t even try.
As I’ve said before, writing a solid time travel story is not easy but if you aren’t going to take the genre seriously you then at least have to give us characters we can relate to. Sadly, this group of yahoos are too dumb for me to get behind. After their first “successful” test of the device sends a toy car back in time, but also with it ending up phased through the wall, they are convinced by Jessie to skip any more trials and move immediately to human testing. I know that a pretty girl can drop some guy’s IQ points just by their proximity but you’d think Christina would have stepped in and smacked some sense into her brother and his idiot friends.
I’ll give the film credit for the cool back-pack time machine that can be operated via a smart phone, but it’s constant barrage of stupidity undercuts any cool factor it tries to build. This isn’t the worst film of the genre, I’m more disappointed of the wasted potential than anything else. So if you are a fan of time travel movies and have 106 minutes to kill go ahead and check it out, but keep expectations lowered.