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Project Power’s saving grace is its visually-stunning cinematography and top-notch performances
The premise behind Netflix’s latest original is a highly unique and interesting concept. A magical pill – called Power – allows anyone the capability to gain a superpower for five minutes. You won’t know which superpower you will receive – invisibility, stretch, thermodynamics, etc. are all possible options. However, the pill could also result in death or being blown up into tiny pieces.
Power is supplied by evil politicians and sold by dealers like Newt (Colson Baker, aka Machine Gun Kelly) and Robin (Dominique FIshback.) One of Robin’s frequent customers is Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is a New Orleans police officer who ingests the pills to be able to catch the rising breed of superhuman criminals. Art (Jamie Foxx) is a former soldier and in search of his daughter after she was abducted by the evil politicians to harness her natural superpowers. He finds out about the dealers and goes on a hunt to track them down, eventually kidnapping Robin to extract information out of her. Lo and behold, Art, Robin and Frank team up to track down the source of the drug together and attempt to take the organization behind the drug down.
At a duration of 112 minutes, there is a lot to like about Project Power, but its weak script is what hinders the movie from being great. Despite the interesting premise, the script, written by first-time writer Mattson Tomlin, fails to make the stakes feel high and fresh. Certain storylines involving Art’s past are skimmed through and not explored fully, instead they are replaced with intense action sequences.
Out of the central cast, Dominique’s character is the most fleshed out, even though her character is filled with Hollywood clichés. She is a high school girl who isn’t a particularly good student, and instead she has a passion for rap and deals drugs to take care of her sick mother. Her missing father figure is embodied by Jamie Foxx’s character when she is kidnapped, and the two instantly form a bond with each other. Although the bond that the two share is cute to watch unfold, the ending of the film makes the development between the two characters seem wasted.
Project Power was released as an R-rated movie. Yet, directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman play it surprisingly safe. Swear words are cut short, and the action sequences are not grotesque enough to justify the R rating. A scene taking place in an underground secret meeting shows a young woman freezing to death in a chamber as she tests the ‘Power’ pill, while Art is bashing up everyone in the meeting. Here, the directors choose to focus on the young woman inside the chamber as she freezes to death while Art kicks ass in the background, instead of showing the action sequence in its full glory. Although this directorial decision was unique and interesting, there was no tension built up during the scene. The young woman dying was unknown to the audience, and only glimpses of the action scene is shown.
Project Power has several antagonists. The main antagonist is a powerful businesswoman named Gardner (Amy Landecker.) Her intentions are similar to that of the villain portrayed in another Netflix superhero movie, “The Old Guard.” Although Project Power’s villain is less cartoonish, the villain is not memorable at all. Audiences are not given any information about her, and since she is barely in the film, what we get is a clichéd, over-the-top villain whose actions are pure evil without any depth of character to back them up.
From a filmmaking standpoint, the movie excels. Cinematographer Michael Simmonds has shot a visually stunning film that keeps your attention. The action sequences are well choreographed, but fail to create tension, mainly due to the lackluster screenplay. Project Power’s pacing is fast, and when the film would be better to slow down for characterization, it instead maintains its fast pace and brushes through important information that would benefit from more development. The CGI is well implemented, and the opening action scene involving Newt and Art was fun to watch. Sadly, the film failed to maintain that excitement throughout its running time.
The performances by the entire cast are phenomenal. The charismatic Jamie Foxx is always a delight to watch on screen. Even though his character is not as fully developed as we’d like to see, Foxx’s natural charisma is enough for audiences to root for him in the search of his daughter. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Frank is reminiscent of the character he played in “The Dark Knight Rises,” and he gives a memorable performance.
However, Dominique Fishback as Robin is easily the strongest part of Project Power. Her character arc is the greatest out of the three central characters, and she becomes instantly likable when she roasts her high school teacher by showcasing her rap skills. The chemistry between the actors is notable and helps make up for the faltering script.
It was disappointing to see a veteran actor like Courtney B. Vance being reduced to a cameo as a police captain, as his role could have complemented the plot if his character had been more involved in the narrative. Other cameos by actor/rapper Machine Gun Kelly and popular YouTuber Casey Neistat (Moto) were surprising, although they do not have much to add to the story overall.
There is an attempted social commentary present in Project Power – from exploring racism to drug use to poor government practices. Sadly, like the character development in the film, it is simply brushed through and leaves much to be desired.
Overall, Project Power has some great moments, but a weak and clichéd script hinders the film from reaching its true potential. Despite its clichés, the film is an entertaining watch with great performances, beautiful cinematography and slick VFX.
Project Power is available to stream on Netflix now.
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