Project Almanac movie review: temporal d’oh!
There are things in which horny teenaged boys were not meant to meddle. Like we needed the warning.
I’m “biast” (pro):
I’m a big science fiction geek
I’m “biast” (con): so tired of found footage
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Of all the great time-travel paradoxes, perhaps the most mysterious is this one: Those who dare to tamper with temporal physics never seem to heed the warnings of every piece of time-travel fiction ever, to just not try it, because really bad things will happen for sure. We know for certain that the three high-school guys who are goofing around with time are aware of the potential problems, because Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Doctor Who, Back to the Future, and the Terminator franchise all get a name- or visual-check here. But they forge ahead anyway, and it all goes wrong. Not wrong in any interesting or original or clever way. But wrong in a way that tells us — yet again, and as if we needed the warning — that there are things in which horny teenaged boys are not meant to meddle.
Well, I say “again,” but there is no indication that these guys have seen About Time, the movie in which Domhnall Gleeson uses his natural, nontechnological ability to time-travel as a way to make the girl of his dreams think he is smarter and cooler and suaver than he actually is. (It’s easy when you can replay dates until you get them just right.) But that’s probably because Project Almanac was shot before 2013’s About Time was even released, and has been sitting on a shelf for a long time. But hey! Time travel! Doesn’t all fiction about time travel exist at every point in the past and the future simultaneously?
That could be a fun idea for a time-travel story– No, I’ll stop with the tangents. I’m just trying to amuse myself by playing with time-travel ideas in a way that Project Almanac cannot be bothered to. Sorry.
Wait! Why couldn’t the Doctor show up and try to stop David (Jonny Weston: Taken 3, Kelly & Cal) from experimenting with time travel and causing all sorts of predictable chaos? Or maybe Dr. Sam Beckett could leap in and prevent David from finding — hidden in the basement, of course — the secret plans for the secret “temporal displacement device” his long-dead dad was secretly designing for the government. Because now David has decided to secretly build the thing himself, with the help of his pals Quinn (Sam Lerner: Envy) and Adam (Allen Evangelista). As you do.
Hey, wait a sec! Maybe the Doctor or Sam have already been there! Because David doesn’t plan to go back in time and save his dad, who died on David’s seventh birthday. And so we never discover that Dad’s death had something to do with a government conspiracy to suppress his time machine, or that his death was somehow inadvertently caused by 17-year-old David’s presence. (Either of those sound like way cooler ideas for an action- and emotion-packed sci-fi thriller. Which this is not, in case I haven’t already mentioned that.) Although we do know that David does make it to his own younger self’s party, on the day his dad died, and David knows it too, because he sees his teenage self, wearing today’s greasy stripey T-shirt, in a video from his seventh birthday party.
For whatever reason, saving Dad is not the plot — which could also have been predictably sentimental and cheesy — of Project Almanac. Instead, too much of the runtime passes before anyone time-travels at all… again for no reasons that are compelling or funny or weird or anything. David and Quinn and Adam are just tinkering with the camcorder on. Which is very not exciting. (This is a found-footage movie. Which, in the end, should not even exist because time travel erases most of the events we see. So how are we supposed to be seeing it?) Mostly it’s talking about power requirements, also not entertaining; this ain’t Doc Brown screaming “One point twenty-one gigawatts!” There are also some bits of David’s sister, Christina (Virginia Gardner), and the girl of his dreams, Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia), standing around getting science-y stuff explained to them, as girls always require, being girls. Then they all go win the lottery and jump back to Lollapalooza. As you do, when you have a time machine. And it’s still all fun.
But then David breaks their self-imposed rule of just doing time-traveling as a group to pull an About Time cheat on Jessie, which totally works. And that’s when the delicate fabric of the spacetime continuum is unbalanced. Because David wanted to get laid. And now if he jumps around in time again to fix all the things that got messed up, he might lose his chance to get laid again. Oh noes!
Kill Hitler. Sightsee some dinosaurs. Listen to the Sermon on the Mount. Watch the paint dry in the Lascaux caves. These are some reasons to time travel I can get behind. Horny teenaged boy? Not the stuff of grand adventure.
See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Project Almanac for its representation of girls and women.