Nima Nourizadeh’s Project X is every bit as puerile and contemptible as you might’ve heard. It’s a horrendous stew of annoying, unlikable characters put into stupid situations meant to offend or shock because of their raunchiness, but more likely to induce narcolepsy in their banality. That’s because none of this is new or surprising. This type of sophomoric booze-and-sex teen romp has been done for decades. Project X most reminds me of the Superbad (2007) knock-off College (2008), a movie I’d forgotten I’d seen (a movie which, if my review is to be trusted, somehow involved pig excrement and a urinating Verne Troyer) until this film started to give me flashbacks to that previous—and just as awful—movie.
Project X tries to set itself apart in the generally insipid world of teen-raunch comedies by pulling in the gimmick of “found footage.” (Even though this was already done to similar effect in the equally abhorrent 2010 mockumentary The Virginity Hit.) In order to set itself apart from all the other movies it’s ripping off, Project X has willfully made itself worse by stripping away any semblance of technical skill, continuing the trend of the found-footage sub-genre devouring its own tail in a flurry of shaky camerawork and faux realism. If found footage can be used to legitimately enhance a film, I haven’t seen it, and it certainly does nothing for Project X besides provide infinite distractions by its own need to cheat in order to make a coherent film.
The plot—to the extent that there is a plot—centers around the 17th birthday of Thomas (Thomas Mann, It’s Kind of a Funny Story) and the party thrown for him by his friends Costa (newcomer Oliver Cooper) and JB (newcomer Jonathan Daniel Brown), and filmed by our little-seen cameraman Dax (one-time Internet personality Dax Flame). The party—which our nebbish hero Thomas wants to keep small—is created in hopes of boosting the popularity of our unpopular protagonists, and soon grows out of hand, resulting in lots of beer-soaked hijinks, animal cruelty, topless co-eds, a dwarf being shoved into an oven, and, eventually, the full-scale destruction of the entire neighborhood. As a grizzled old vet to these types of movies, perhaps I’ve been desensitized—or maybe unfortunately I became an adult somewhere along the way—but none of this strikes me as particularly outrageous. The only people who might be grossed out by the Project X’s vulgarity and tomfoolery, or titillated by all the bare skin on display, aren’t even old enough to get into an R-rated movie in the first place.
The film certainly doesn’t help itself as it populates the proceedings with stock teen-movie characters. Thomas is our nebbish hero who comes of age; Costa is the obnoxious horndog (to the point of being one of the most grating, nails-on-the-chalkboard kind of characters ever committed to celluloid); and JB is the nerdy weirdo. Project X doesn’t even have the originality to go anywhere with the story besides a pat, run-of-the-mill happy ending. When the only thing setting your film apart from a million other bad movies are some lazy aesthetic choices, something has gone terribly awry. Rated R for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, drugs, drinking, pervasive language, reckless behavior and mayhem—all involving teens.