Project Almanac (2015)

PROJECT ALMANACDavid Raskin (Jonny Weston) is desperate to get into MIT, but while his application is ultimately successful unexpected funding cuts leave him unable to afford the tuition. Searching his late father’s files for fresh ideas, hoping to poach something suitable for a different scholarship programme, David happens across an old video which would seem to place him — now aged 17 — at his own seventh birthday. Finding blueprints for a temporal relocation device in the basement, and emboldened by the knowledge that they have already succeeded, he, Jessie (Sophia Black D’Elia), Adam (Allen Evangelista), Quinn (Sam Lerner) and sister Chris (Virginia Gardner) decide to build a prototype time machine. At first they travel back days and weeks to right wrongs and place winning bets, but when David manufactures a romance between himself and Jessie his actions have tragic repercussions for everyone.

Previously titled Welcome to Yesterday (still a superior title) and slated for release in early 2014, a renamed Project Almanac time-travelled to the following year when Paramount went into partnership with MTV Films. Likely pitched as a cross between Chronicle and The Butterfly Effect, it uses the now ubiquitous found footage format to document teenage kicks at the expense of the space-time continuum. Despite being poorly conceived in just about every respect — from the nonsensical time-travel mechanics to the impossible camera angles — it’s hard to straight-out dislike David and his band of age-appropriately selfish, short-sighted friends. Why don’t they use their machine to go back and kill Hitler? Well, because none of them speak German, d’uh.

As with Chronicle, there’s something quietly compelling about watching kids dick about with superpowers, whether alien or technological in origin. The fun the characters are obviously having outwitting teachers and peers alike really translates, while the ingenuity of our young geniuses proves just convincing enough to impress, whether it’s stripping a games console for its graphics card or using a hybrid car’s battery to power their device. Refreshingly, the film’s centrepiece isn’t a blurry, high-stakes special effects bonanza but a concert — organised by David to fit into a five-minute toilet break — that inadvertently changes everything. Backstage passes bought after the fact on eBay raise the characters’ profiles upon their return to the present day, while a missed opportunity prompts David to break his own rule about never time-travelling alone.

Although often entertaining, there’s no denying that Project Almanac is also infuriating: the plot is unforgivably contrived (forget the time machine in the basement, it’s hard enough to believe that David would mistake Jessie’s bag for his own), the camera work is unnecessarily convoluted (the lengths Chris must go to in order to hold onto it are quite simply obscene) and the internal logic is completely incoherent (despite returning to the same point in time over and over the friends never encounter their ever-growing number of doppelgangers). It all falls apart the moment David goes it alone, taking the camera with him despite the fact that all he is doing is slowing himself down and incriminating his friends in the process. The last twenty minutes or so make absolutely no sense whatsoever — emotionally, narratively, scientifically.

Naturally, there are stronger time-travel movies out there, both better developed and more ambitious in scope than Dean Israelite’s Project Almanac. (It is a Platinum Dunes production, after all, so it was never going to be great.) But while it might pale in comparison to Back to the Future, Donnie Darko or even The Butterfly Effect there is still plenty of timey-wimey fun to be had.

3-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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