Project Power (3 stars)

Project Power

Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are reasons to watch this conceptually questionable sci-fi thriller

A pill which seems to have mainly horrible and occasionally fatal effects is the baffling driver of an otherwise entertaining and, certainly, competently cast sci-fi actioner from directing team Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Catfish, Paranormal Activity 3 and 4). The question of why anyone would take the thing – when you might freeze to death or explode – plagues a film whose stupid concept nevertheless gives way to some affable dynamics and a smattering of well-judged humour.

When a flashy new drug hits the streets of New Orleans, it promises to bestow users with superpowers for all of five minutes. The powers themselves vary widely and you have no way of knowing what you'll get before you take it. Would you really want to briefly become a human fireball, for example, especially if afterwards you're left permanently singed? Nevertheless, 'Power', as it's known, proves popular and chaotic events befall the city – over very short durations – as people opt to roll the dice.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays concerned NOPD cop Frank – not averse to going rogue, or indeed popping said pill, in his quest to find out what the hell is going on. He's befriended Robin (the terrific Dominique Fishback from TV's The Deuce and The Hate U Give), a teen dealer and aspiring rapper, who is peddling the drug to help fund her mum's diabetes treatment, while Jamie Foxx is the mysterious Art, bent on trying to trace its source and about to become a competing father figure for Robin.

Ostensibly interested in the 'next step in human evolution', the explanations behind the drug are comically cursory. It's not a film that even pretends to 'do science'. Amy Landecker's villainous doc seems like an afterthought, and her sidekick Biggie (a twirly-moustached Rodrigo Santoro) is hammy and lame. Screenwriter Mattson Tomlin is ominously credited as one of the screenwriters of the upcoming Robert Pattinson Batman movie, given his deficiencies here we may have reason to worry.

There is, however, a certain amount of visual finesse and flashy, albeit not greatly exciting, action. Moreover, when Project Power embraces the big dumb fun of it all and takes a more humorous tack, it can be very enjoyable. 'That's the sound of the most advanced tactical team in the world taking over your ship,' boasts Art, as one cop and a teenage girl come to his rescue, while Gordon-Levitt has a funny scene where he pretends to be the lover of Robin's incredulous mum.

Although conceptually chaotic, by putting a sympathetic teen at the centre of the story it gives you reason to care. And with the ensemble bringing charisma to the daft lines and scenarios, if the film's focus on superpowers doesn't cut it, its star power helps it fly.

Available to watch on Netflix from Fri 14 Aug.

Project Power

  • 3 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 1h 55min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
  • Cast: Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback