Todd Phillips’ entire career has been a long study in male bonding, usually over alcohol, drugs and general debauchery. Phillips has come a long way since his 2003 comedy “Old School” made Vince Vaughn a comedy superstar. Just under a decade and one “Hangover” too many later, Phillips, the producer of “Project X” is unexpectedly the film’s most bankable name.
“Project X” explores Phillips’ usual themes, but also remembers to build an often hilarious comedy around them, something the director’s work has lately forgotten to do.
Thomas (Thomas Mann), Costa (Oliver Cooper) and JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown) star as unpopular high schoolers yearning to party with the jocks, score with the cheerleaders and ultimately be the biggest men on campus. When Thomas’ parents leave town for the weekend, Costa makes the most of the opportunity and elects to throw the party to end all parties (and films it, making “Project X” another notch in the belt of the found-footage genre). That’s about it as far as the story goes for “Project X.”
Even though the narrative is wafer-thin, “Project X” never fails to entertain. From the beginning, it gets plenty of laughs just from the friends ripping on each other, and once the party starts, the film picks up steam. The party is practically a character in itself: it starts slow, setting up a few jokes and introducing a few elements and then methodically hits all its punch lines and pays off every joke perfectly, until the party hits a hilarious crescendo of absolute chaos. Going in, I certainly wasn’t ready for how insane “Project X” ends up being. By the end of the film, it’s easy to be taken aback by the level of lunacy the film reaches for.
Of the three main actors, Mann is the only one with any real experience with a supporting role in 2010’s “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” but all three prove to be natural comedic presences throughout the film. Their friendships feel genuine. Even as the party of their lives rages around them, the trio still find time to bond and reflect on the madness around them — a human touch that keeps the film from devolving into empty high school wish fulfillment.
Though “Project X” is a harmless film at heart, an empty ode to irresponsible decisions, its coda is morally rancid and hard to swallow. Once the sun rises and Thomas is forced to face the consequences of his decisions, the film isn’t sure what to do with itself. On one hand, its main character has essentially ruined his life by throwing this party that becomes national news and a police matter, and on the other, he’s become wildly popular and gets the girl. “Project X” almost seems to say that the consequences are worth the rewards, but it’s a viewpoint as juvenile as the film itself. It leaves things on a distinctly sour note.
Despite its wildly irresponsible message, “Project X” is undeniably entertaining and should certainly be commended for just how thoroughly the film commits to its premise and the levels of insanity the it hits in the later moments. It’s a film with a rotten center but an exterior so funny and charming that it’s hard not to like.
Printed on Friday, March 2, 2012 as: 'Project X' parties hard as wild comedy