By Andrew Rodden | Image by Patil Khakhamian

How much power is too much power? What is the limit to human potential? Is there really an animal that can spontaneously combust? Directing duo Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman ask but never answer these questions in their 2020 Netflix film “Project Power.”

You’ve probably seen the advertisements if you’ve spent any time on Twitter or YouTube lately, so if you weren’t hooked by the eye-catching cast – Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Casey Neistat, and rapper Machine Gun Kelly – maybe the VFX-enhanced action scenes did the trick. 

Set in New Orleans, “Project Power” follows veteran Art (Foxx), who teams up with high school student Robin (Dominique Fishback) and New Orleans detective Frank Shaver (Gordon-Levitt) in order to rescue Art’s daughter (Kyanna Simone Simpson) from a band of drug manufacturers. These manufacturers develop Power, a drug that grants its user temporary superpowers akin to the abilities of nature’s most outlandish animals. 

The film delivers on its marketing promise to provide Ivan Moran’s stellar VFX work to your living room television, but if that doesn’t interest you, well, “Project Power” doesn’t offer much else. Aside from a few cute interactions between main characters – featuring an impressive performance from Fishback – the only appeal of this film is high volume, matter-of-fact action. 

To be fair, the film doesn’t skimp on such action scenes. Early in the film, Art tracks a Power dealer, Newt (Machine Gun Kelly), who, upon taking a pill, combusts into flames and flees. This scene exemplifies a gorgeous blend of practical effects and CGI, both taking advantage of great prosthetic work to showcase a fun and exciting romp through a New Orleans housing complex. 

Does any of the action make much sense within the context of the story? Not really, as the superpowers granted by the Power pill follow a loose logic. The pills give users animal powers, like a chameleon’s camouflage or a Pistol shrimp’s wicked claw attack, but there are abilities displayed that have never been seen in the animal kingdom. Even with the benefit of the doubt, powers like spontaneous combustion or the ability to freeze oneself are just excuses to show off another cool VFX scene. 

Too much focus is spent on trying to explain a convoluted plot of drug dealing schemes and world-saving heroics, and the filmmakers of “Project Power” neglect to develop themes of a post-Katrina New Orleans, a drug epidemic, and the next level of human evolution. The film gets lost in its own excess and lacks the follow through to capitalize on a powerful premise. Nuance, subtlety, and finesse are all absent from “Project Power,, which is disappointing considering the thematic potential.

There’s also a stylistic hole which could have been filled to reinforce the underdeveloped animal themes. Opting for tired cinematography and uninspired costume design, the loud and energetic “Project Power” would have been nicely complemented by an equally over-the-top animal-inspired art style. 

 It is difficult to see Joost and Shulman’s movie doing well at the box office. Maybe it’s a stylistic hitch, or maybe the concept of movie theaters has become alien to me, but the film is a perfect fit for a streaming service like Netflix. The company seems to be flexing their massive influence in show biz, letting everyone know they have the sheer power to make an otherwise mediocre movie a success. Frankly, they do have that power, considering “Project Power” was Netflix’s highest streamed title during the weekend of its debut. It is a recent phenomenon for an original film of a streaming service to find significant success, and time will tell what this means for movies in a post-COVID-19 future.

Though normally I would not recommend purchasing a ticket to see this at the theater, new movies are in short supply these days. “Project Power” is perfect for hungry moviegoers scrambling to watch new films, especially since you don’t even need to leave the couch to see it.   

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