'Project X': 'X'-crement
"So, what is that, 'The Hangover' for kids?" a friend asked when I mentioned that I would be seeing this. Well, yes. And well, even more yes, once one has rolled over that concept in one's mind and really grappled with all of its appalling implications. This fake-found-footage (again!) teen comedy, which was produced by the director of both "Hangover" movies Todd Phillips, is calculated to, among other things; utterly outrage various ostensibly adult standards of propriety and decency. This is kind of encapsulated by the explanation given by the MPAA for the movie's fully-earned R rating: "for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, drugs, drinking, pervasive language, reckless behavior and mayhem - all involving teens." Yes, "Project X" has all that and more, the "more" mostly encompassing a throbbing pulse of testosterone-fueled hostility toward, well, basically everything. But hey, that's what teens today are all about? Or are they? I personally don't put much stock in the movie's verisimilitude. Here's one example of why: one of its most memorable lead characters, the relentlessly coarse Costa (Oliver Cooper), a thoroughly dumbed-down variant on the Mike Damone character played by Robert Romanus in 1982's "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" (this picture is nothing if not nastily derivative), is constantly boasting of his roots in a place called "Queens." The thing is, in real life, nobody says they're from Queens. They say they're from Astoria, or Jackson Heights, or something else, because if they lived to be even two years old in Queens, they know that telling a fellow New Yorker that they're "from Queens" will likely earn the riposte, "Oh really? I'm from normal parents myself."
You don't like that joke? Then you're not likely to enjoy much of the humor
in "Project X," which makes the above sound positively Wildean. Costa throws
around the epithet "faggot" so much that Vince Vaughn must be punching walls over all the
smack he got about a character gag on electric cars being "gay" about a year
back. And you will hear further complaints about the movie's casually hateful
excesses in other notices, surely. But what's really the most interesting thing
about the movie is that beneath its two-note crudity it is in fact an entirely
conservative construct. The lead characters, high-school semi losers, concoct
this big bash in order to score chicks (that's a crude phrase again, I know, but
the phrases actually used are sufficiently crude to be unprintable), but of
course birthday boy Thomas Kub (portrayed, rather improbably, by Thomas Mann ...
okay, not THAT Thomas Mann ...) already has a girl best friend Kirby, whose
blonde and pretty and Good and True. But Costa insists that Kub pursue the
erotic unobtanium that is uber-hot brunette Alexis ... not that Kub has to do
much pursuing, because in the world of this movie, if your party is AWESOME
enough, the erotic unobtanium will just throw itself at you. But of course Good
and True girl will walk in on you while it's happening, and ooops. This
nonsense, porny as it is, is as old as Betty and Veronica, and of course as
reactionary as well.
Even the movie's found-footage structure is largely a ruse; "Project X" in fact hews to the extremely old dramaturgical saw oft attributed to Chekhov about what you need to do in the third act should you introduce a gun, or the idea of one, in the first act. That the gun is replaced in this case by a flamethrower makes not much difference.
That the movie lets its hero come out of what seems an almost suicidal rage in the final throes of the party-out-of-bounds, AND shows him earning the not-begrudged-enough admiration of a parent, AND (spoiler alert, but not really) getting back into the Good Graces of the Good Girl demonstrates how bored the filmmakers are with their own trite lies, and how much they hold their audience in contempt for believing they'll swallow such lies. And the swallowing has happened; I've seen at least a couple of reactions to the film that talk about "Project X" having an underlying sweetness. Whoa. "The Help" hasn't even been out for a year, and people have already forgotten what was in that pie.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.