Directed By: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman Released: August 14, 2020
There’s a new drug on the streets. Said to give you crazy abilities once you take it. But be careful, the ability is random. You don’t know what you’ll get until you take it. You might be able to fly, or turn invisible, or super strength. Or you might die. What’s it called? Power. It’s exciting, you should try it out. Or that’s what I would say, if this film was in any way exciting. Instead all I can say is that you should not do drugs, kids. Or watch a movie about people taking what should be a really cool idea for a drug but ends up being a slog to get through with uninteresting characters, boring set pieces and change in the main villain every other scene.
The name of the game is Power. A new drug that is getting passed around the streets. Once you take it it gives you “powers” for only 5 minutes then you return to normal, maybe. Bit iffy on that. But law enforcement is trying to crack down on the spread of it before it’s too late. That’s where our hero, Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), comes in. He’s working with a young girl who’s down on her luck, Robin (Dominique Fishback), to try to find the source of this new drug. But suddenly Robin is kidnapped by a strange man who is looking for his daughter. Art (Jamie Fox) needs to also find out who is at the top of the drug trade, cause they kidnapped his daughter and he will stop at nothing to find her.
This entire premise sounds really good on paper. Interesting drug that can give any power with different sides of justice working to find out how to stop it. All centered around a young female protagonist who just wants to make sure her mom lives comfortably, while also an aspiring rapper. All good on paper, but falls apart in execution.
The one good aspect is the performances by Jamie Fox and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Both of them give it their best to give weight to situations and character motivations. It took me a while to realize that it even was JGL in the lead role, as he seamlessly blended in with the crowd and characters. They allow Fox to take command of every scene, giving him this Book of Eli-esk air to him as he climbs up the chain of command within the criminal underworld. And Frank as a character is by far the most interesting, never giving up his ideals even though he is beaten down at every corner, which helps when his “power” is having indestructible skin. But these two can not carry an entire, 2 hour (way too long) film.
I want to focus on why “Power” is just so boring in execution. First off, the name is one of the laziest I have heard. Just call it “Power” and call it a day. It is a pill you take that, as the movie puts it, “changes your unique DNA to whatever it can” or something. Basically, take it and that’s your power. It lasts for 5 minutes and if you take it again you get that same power. It should allow for interesting fight scenes and dynamic choreography. And I am all about cool fights with an assortment of abilities. But sadly it never lives up to the potential. Most fights really end of being “who hits the hardest” and rarely get a chance to be unique. There is one fight that I thought was interesting. Later in the film Frank fights a goon who has the ability to contort his limbs. Since Frank’s Power is indestructible skin, the two go at it in a tight corridor and neither can get a good hit in. One moves too fluidly to get hit, the other can take any hit. Sadly Frank just gets a good shot in and it’s over, but those few minutes where the most fun the film had.
What about Robin? The central character of the film, she gets to see every side of the conflict and doesn’t really have any stakes in it beyond she gets tangled in the messy situations. She drops out of school early on and just wants to provide for her diabetic mother. I have nothing against Fishbacks performance of the character, she clearly gives it her all and has to act alongside veteran actors like JGL and Fox, that’s no small task. But her character never comes off as endearing or gives the audience a reason to care for her struggle. There are way too many times where they randomly focus on her aspiring rap career and trying to establish Art as a potential father figure.
In a general sense though, the film itself is far too long. At nearly 2 hours, it feels as though too much fluff was added. That isn’t to say that 2 hours makes for a long film, I can say that Ben-Hur and Laurence of Arabia are two of my favorite films, but there needs to be substance to go with the run time. Project Power is all about style over substance but still drags every scene out. The powers themselves are that interesting to look at, the dreary and hollow city is too boring to look at, and the characters don’t do much to elevate it. It has a revolving door of villains in what seems like every scene. If they could have established a main antagonist earlier on and built up to our hero’s getting to them, I could have gotten invested. What felt like the actual main villain turns out to be just another middle man. The person they reported too also was just hired muscle. The real villain only gets three minutes of screen time. In a film about trying to find who is behind all of it and take them down, I can’t even tell you what that persons name is.
Sadly, Project Power is just another pseudo-superhero movie that trying to capture the imagination of the audience but then let’s everyone down. After a while I was just bored. I am a sucker for action films with cool powers, but from a film where “Power” is in the title there isn’t any weight behind the punches. Many other, if not every other, film does this concept better. I can not recommend this film, it is way too long to be a short Netflix excursion and the characters aren’t interesting enough to carry you through.
So what did you think? Have you seen Project Power? What kind of power would you want? Tell me in the comments below and I’ll see you in the next review!