Finding a good movie in 2020 is like finding an antique in a storage locker. You have to dig through a lot of trash to find something of any value. Finding a good movie on Netflix is like finding a Frank Gutierrez art collection in your local dumpster…it’s likely not to happen.
As most people would rather risk coronavirus to watch Back To The Future II for 15 cents over watching The Kissing Booth 2 once for free, Netflix’s Project Power is gambling 85 million dollars on the fact you won’t leave your couch.
Project Power is a “Superhero film” based in the city of New Orléans, Louisiana. A new drug is sweeping the streets and instead of giving you a high, this drug gives you a special power. For 5 minutes, the drug “Power” can give you an unpredictable and uncontrollable ability that makes the user addicted to the rush.
One day, a teenage drug dealer named Robin (Dominique Fishback) gets herself caught up in an underground power play. The creators of ‘Power’ are running an illegal experiment on the city and the supply is running out. With dangerous people across the city becoming increasingly desperate for their next fix, Robin must rely on her two allies, NOLA street cop Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and former test subject Art (Jamie Foxx) to find the supplier and shut down the experiment before ‘Power’ can become a worldwide addiction.
Project Power is an interesting premise that will at least have you willing to see what the buzz is about. The film starts out hot by setting up the universe of a magic pill that can turn everyday people into heroes or villains depending on the user. The special effects are impressive for a Netflix film even when considering the near 90 million dollar budget. The performances of veteran actors Jaime Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt carry much of the film to be passable especially if you are just looking for a popcorn film on a late night.
Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have vastly improved from their dreadful 2016 film Nerve, a film about people doing dangerous stunts for money that bordered on too fictional for a fictional setting. Rapper Machine Gun Kelly makes a cameo keeping his speaking roles to a minimum while being effective in setting the tone for the rest of the film. The premise brings about an endless supply of possibilities but the film doesn’t effectively use the creative fountain that it is given.
The problem with social commentary in sci-fi movies is that not only does pointless progressive pandering take you out of the realm the film presents but it takes away precious time for the fantasy universe you have created. One of the biggest knocks on Project Power is that the film drops the ball on a killer concept by its lack of creativity. There are no colorful villains, no compelling heroes, the conflict is painted by numbers and the resolution is cliches. These are things that are death for films in the superhero genre in which people look for an entertaining good time.
Instead of a villain from the Batman rogue gallery-like Bane or The Joker that could deliver some wild hijinks, the villain in Project Power is “the system”. Much of the film is told through the lens of Robin, a poor black teen who sells drugs and inspires to be a rapper. Subtly is absent in a movie that outright tells its main character because she is young, black, and female that the system wasn’t made for her to succeed. A mantra that she expresses during a couple of her rap freestyles throughout the movie.
In the world of professional wrestling, there is a saying called “giving someone the rub”. It is used to describe when a big star works with a lesser-known star in the hopes of raising their profile and making them a star in the process. It is obvious that this is the plan pitting novice actress Dominique Fishback with big-name stars such as Fox and Levitt in hopes that Fishback’s profile will be raised without the pressure of having her sell the film.
Fishback, who looks young enough to play a teenager despite being 30, has some good chemistry with Jaime Foxx as his de facto daughter but the way they come together feels shoehorned at best in the grand scheme of the story. Speaking of a shoehorn, Lovett’s character of Frank could have easily been removed altogether at no cost to the film as he seems to disappear for 30 minutes at a time until the plot conveniently needs him to reappear. The script simply needs a touch-up and if this is a preview of what screenwriter Mattson Tomlin has in store for the upcoming Batman movie with Matt Reeves, let’s hope Reeves is taking the point with important details.
While Project Power is arguably the best Netflix Original Film in months, the lack of focus on the details that makes it an entertaining superhero movie is what ultimately turns the film into a decent missed opportunity.