Review: ‘Project Almanac’ (decent found-footage time travel flick)

Pretty good, but a little tweaking here and there might have made it great.

David (Jonny Weston) is a high school senior science nerd who dreams of getting into MIT. With the help of his sister and two best buds, he gets admitted – but with a scholarship too small to cover his expenses. Having little choice other than to change his life plans or his mother selling their house, David and his sibling raid the attic for ideas before finding an old video camera. The ten-year old footage of the day his dad passed away also shows his eighth birthday party…and his eighteen year old self walking through the frame.

A late-January film like this has a lot going against it: found footage, time travel, produced by Michael Bay – and don’t get me started on product placement (mobile cameras, game consoles, concert venues – oh, it’s MTV Films, too). To the film’s credit, it’s a self-aware time travel flick, citing everything from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure to Looper, even a “Doctor Who” reference. The science of the time travel technology is certainly part of the story, including the rules. Apparently, your past self cannot observe your in-the-flesh future self for too long in close proximity (this bit of rules-lawyering is shaky) or else you may wink out of existence (yep, even a Time Cop reference). The entire story attaches itself to the idea that observation of future events changes it, yet it conveniently sorts that out when it benefits the plot. Still, for a self-aware time travel flick, it does hit all the right pop-culture tropes and has fun with the idea.

The cast is mostly window dressing, including Decent-Looking Smart Guy (Jonny Weston), Convenient Hawt Love Interest (Sofia Black-D’Elia), Willing Coattail-Riding Minions (Sam Lerner and Allen Evangelista) and Incredibly Gorgeous Sister Unit (Virginia Gardner). None of them are bad actors, but neither are any of them particularly compelling. Stretches include a science nerd who hasn’t attempted to raid his late father’s workshop for goodies in TEN YEARS (really?) and finding the hidden McGuffin in record time. Here’s a huge questions: why would anyone with sense volunteer to be a guinea pig using tech that materializes traveled objects into solid matter? Let’s guess none of the kids had watched The Philadelphia Experiment.

Going back once to fix an event is clever – wouldn’t you? – especially having to distract your past self first, but going back multiple times means you’d have to keep avoiding your past selves from the FIRST time you botched the fix. Fortunately, the ending manages to make up for several of these slips, even while generating a slip of its own to make the story work. For a found-footage film, the writers created a clever way to purpose having all the footage and even a way to make it integral to the plot, but any time travel movie – especially one referencing every other time travel film every made – should take special care to ensure their logic is spot on. Let’s just say the ending is wisely taken more from Back to the Future than it is from Looper, okay?

(a two and a half skull recommendation)


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