Soundtrack music is so important for teen movies, so often setting the tone for the events to come or offering lyrically poetic insight into the characters at hand. Who can forget the haunting rhythms of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me,” in The Breakfast Club, or the nostalgic, pained croak that is the eponymous theme to Stand By Me. This Todd Philips produced, hyper-ADD infused, hedonistic hymn to mindless misogyny, a debut from British-Iranian director Nima Nourizadeh, opens with 2 Live Crew’s beautifully introspective classic “We Want Some Pussy” – which tells you everything, sadly.
Despite the brains beyond the concept – Phillips almost single handedly revived the R-rated comedy with The Hangover, and Scott Pilgrim scribe Michael Bacall had a big hand in the script – Project X is a wretched disaster. Billed as a “Superbad on crack" (because, you know, crack is soooo funny), this steaming pile of puerile nonsense tells of three unpopular highschoolers (newcomers: Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, and Johnathan Daniel Brown) who attempt to simultaneously gain cred and get laid by throwing a house party, which, unsurprisingly spirals majestically out of control.
Perfectly fine, except that Project X seemingly has absolutely no idea where to take itself beyond a muddled preoccupation with mining the very worst excess of clichéd, unsupervised adolescent antics. Drugs are recreationally consumed (just the soft stuff, mind, the movie isn’t that brave), testicles are abused (by a dwarf stuffed inside an oven no less!) and parades of semi-naked women are ogled lustfully and lingeringly, to the unending beat of rap music, in a manner that would embarrass Michael Bay.
Not that Project X is the first teen movie to hang itself on sexually obsessed teens engaging in gross antics in the pursuit of popularity and that all-important first time. Lest we forget, American Pie offered guys ejaculating into beer and the now infamous literal screwing of fruit-based pastry — and was hailed as an instant classic. But where that film succeeded, and where Project X falls down spectacularly, is in making the characters inherently likable. Rarely do you find a trio of leads more painfully obnoxious than these three, thinly drawn as they are as the fat one, the overcompensating one, and (in the loosest possible sense) the vaguely normal one.
At one point – shortly before the guy with the flamethrower arrives (don’t ask) – one of our three stooges surveys the unfolding carnage and asks: “Is this big enough to be cool?” It’s a rather ironic summation of both the film’s attitude and its underlying problem – it’s utterly without direction save for spinning in circles, trying to constantly one-up itself, in a misguided effort to reach the dizzy heights of debauchery and then snigger, unrepentant of the consequences. Through sheer statistical probability, there is the odd gag that works – the pair of kids barely old enough to shave who provide door security are hilarious – but their antics are scarcely enough to alleviate what is a thinly stretched, painfully predictable eighty-eight minutes.
Shot with the now done-to-death “Found Footage” gimmick, Project X does offer evidence that director Nourizadeh, making the transition from commercials to features, can certainly move a camera. But he forgets the first rule that you learn making commercials – above all else make your product seem appealing. Project X doesn’t so much desecrate the grave of John Hughes as it does dig him up, urinate on his corpse, set fire to it, and then upload the whole thing to Youtube. Avoid like a landmine.