Project Almanac

Directed By: Dean Israelite

Starring: Jonny Weston, Sofia Black-D'Elia, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, and Virginia Gardner

It's Super Bowl weekend!  That means it's time for me to win some money on the big game.  That also means that no one cares about the movies this weekend with the possible exception of diehard aficionados such as myself.  As fate would have it on one of the quietest weekends at the box office historically, 2015 is a bit of déjà vu.  Three years ago, we had the releases of The Woman in Black and Chronicle on Super Bowl weekend.  While not released this weekend, The Woman in Black 2 is still very much present at the box office.  We also have a Chronicle knockoff in teenage time travel mockumentary Project Almanac.  2015 is apparently the new 2012.

High school senior David Raskin (Jonny Weston) is obsessed with getting into MIT.  With the help of his sister Christina (Virginia Gardner) and his best friends Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista), he creates a video to showcase his latest experiment, a miniature aircraft with motion sensors capable of being guided by hand gestures.  With an awesome experiment like this, he naturally receives an acceptance letter in the mail down the road from MIT.  There's just one problem.  His widow mother Kathy (Amy Landecker) can't afford the tuition given the limited grants of $5000 per year that the financial aid department is offering them. 

Unwilling to let her David’s brilliance go to waste, Kathy puts her house on the market.  Unwilling to let his family go to the precipice of financial ruin for the cost of his success, however, David decides to review some of the experiments his late father Ben (Gary Weeks) worked on years ago to get his creative juices flowing for one more attempt at a scholarship.  What he discovers astounds him.  Not the lowly engineer at an energy company he declared himself to be, his father Ben was a researcher for a top secret government agency looking to push the bounds of science and technology.  In fact, one project from Ben’s past may just define David’s future.  David discovers blueprints for a temporal relocation device, and becomes quite intrigued with the notion of time travel.  With the help of Christina, Quinn, and Adam, he begins making his father's designs a reality and builds a time machine.  Meanwhile, David gets to know a girl at school he's been admiring for quite some time, Jessie Pierce (Sofia Black-D'Elia).

Project Almanac is a fun film by any measure.  Anyone would love to be able to fix the things that go wrong in their lives, to travel back to great parties, or to win the lottery on demand.  It’s certainly enjoyable to watch on the big screen. While the premise of teens building a time machine is certainly engaging, the rock star life depicted in Project Almanac is less becoming of a thriller and more akin to Hot Tub Time Machine.  It works for the film up to a point, after which it just doesn't.  It's a bit of an undercooked and underwhelming time travel movie when we arrive at this point.  What's more troubling, however, is the mockumentary/found footage style utilized by director Dean Israelite.  Bumpy camerawork and a constant need to justify the presence of a camera on screen are frequently distracting at best and profoundly annoying at worst.  The style only takes away from what could have been just a fun, somewhat uneven sci-fi thriller.

The cast offers a mixed bag of performances.  For his part as David Raskin, Jonny Weston delivers a decent performance.  He manages to capture a bit of the nerdy charm that defines his character, though he doesn't quite convince me that he's a scientific prodigy capable of building a time machine.  As David's close friend Quinn, Sam Lerner is quite entertaining.  As his character gets exposed to the high life, he becomes a rather amusing life of the party.  On the other hand, Allen Evangelista has little to no personality on screen as David's other close friend Adam.  For her part as David's romantic interest Jessie, Sofia Black-D'Elia doesn't bring too much to the table and sadly seems to be there to purely serve as eye candy.  It's unfortunate because she has genuine chemistry with Jonny Weston on which Israelite could and should have capitalized.  Finally, we have Virginia Gardner as David's sister Christina.  She's off camera most of the time and is the warm body there to hold the camera.  When she does make her way on screen, sparks don't exactly fly.

While I have my gripes with Project Almanac, a film produced by Michael Bay could be far, far worse.  This teen time travel thriller gets a 0.06% rating.  Have a few rounds of beer with this one.