Project Almanac

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Movie a Day Blog has never been a fan of the found-footage trend that now dominates exploitation cinema. It has been explained to me that it’s a generational preference; a normally-shot film now seems boring and cheesy, while found footage, in the era of manufactured reality television, somehow feels more “real.”

That’s a windy introduction to my generally pleasant surprise at seeing PROJECT ALMANAC (2014, Theatrical), a found-footage time travel movie that manages to add at least a few new crow’s feet to the very wrinkled time dislocation genre.

The key to a successful time shift movie is to establish your rules early and clearly, and then stay true to them. PROJECT ALMANAC has trouble keeping to this mantra, with the predictable confusing results, but generally it maintained its internal logic and was entertaining in doing so.

The most cumbersome aspect of PROJECT ALMANAC is that someone has to be filming constantly, so there are a variety of cell phone and digital camera hand-offs that become ludicrous as the action escalates. Who’s filming who in the past and then the future, and why doesn’t that change anything? What about technology that hasn’t been invented¬† yet?

But I get ahead of myself, and so, too often, does PROJECT ALAMANAC.

A bunch of nerdy teens (lead Jonny Weston is way too good-looking for that designation) stumble on Weston’s father’s secret project, a government attempt at temporal dislocation. At least our brainy characters (Weston, his sister, two geek buddies and Weston’s love interest) don’t need that explained to them , but this is a MTV and Michael Bay production, so a handsome guy and a whole bunch of beautiful young women in extremely short skirts shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Since the plot isn’t a major departure from the norm, and the characters are more or less stock MTV types, what’s the appeal? The very mundaneness¬† of what Weston and his pals want to do with their quick visits is kind of like a Snapchat or Instagram posting. See where I was? See what I did?

Of course they fall into the trap of all time travelers who realize they possess invaluable information: they cash in, although again not in the big way they hoped.

They are somewhat hapless teens, after all, and as their ambitions grow, their skill in mastering them lessens, and pretty soon they have fallen into the inevitable time-travel movie trap: they alter the future, and slam, bam, thank you ma’am, everything changes.

That’s hardly a spoiler in this movie category, but PROJECT ALAMANC has in its favorite a quintet of generally likeable characters, no real villain, and a sort of brainiac challenge for the Geek Squad, how to make a device invented in the early 2000s work a decade later.

It’s a first film for writer Andrew Stark (nee Deutschman, nice to see that writers are still changing their Jewish names to more Gentile-sounding ones) and director Dean Israelite, and their enthusiasm for what they’re trying to pull off is admirable.¬† They can’t get past the corner they box themselves into in the third act, but up until that point, the casting, humor and effective plotting are ingratiating.

Israelite has already filmed the next PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movie, like we need another one of those, but here’s hoping he gets out of the found-footage funhouse and finds a real movie to direct. It will be much more satisfying, for him and the audience.

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