CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: PROJECT ALMANAC (2015)
Movie Review by Michael Arruda
(THE SCENE: A basement. A group of teenagers busily work on a piece of complicated machinery.)
TEEN #1: We’ve done it! We’ve built a time machine!
TEEN #2: Awesome!
TEEN #3: Hey, what do we do with it?
TEEN #1: Let’s travel back to last week so we can go to that concert we missed because we had to study!
TEEN #2: But, if we go to the concert, we won’t study, and if we don’t study, we’ll fail our exam!
TEEN #1: Well, after the concert, we’ll travel back in time again and this time we’ll skip the concert and take the exam. This way everything will be back to normal.
TEEN #2: Awesome!
TEEN #1: Okay, guys, hold on! Here we go!
(Teen #1 presses a button, there is a strange distortion in time and space, and the teens disappear from the basement. As soon as they are gone, MICHAEL ARRUDA enters the basement.)
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Now I can review today’s movie. Welcome to another edition of Cinema Knife Fight. Today I’m reviewing PROJECT ALMANAC, a tale of a time machine and some teenagers. If this sounds trite to you, you’re right! It actually sounds like the premise to one of those 1960s Annette Funicello/Frankie Avalon beach movies, only those films knew had to have fun.
This one isn’t much fun at all, and that’s because tries to be something it’s not: a science fiction thriller. Its story is just not that compelling, and so things never get as edge-of-your seat suspenseful as the film tries to be. Most of the film is very light, but the problem with this is “light” translates into dull and uninteresting, as opposed to funny and quirky.
I’m reviewing this one solo today as L.L. Soares is off gallivanting through time somewhere. See, he and I were goofing around with that time machine back there, and suddenly he went poof! Then again, maybe I went poof! I don’t really know, other than one moment he was there, the next he was gone. Or maybe I was gone? Maybe I’m the one who went back a day or two. No matter. I’m here now, and so I might as well review today’s movie.
PROJECT ALMANAC is yet another of those hand-held camera films of the “found footage variety.” Although this one isn’t about found footage, it is one where the characters in the movie feel compelled to film everything and anything. These types of character have become increasingly annoying. I mean, who does this? Who films everything they do, even ridiculous things that should never be filmed, like when you’re cheating on an exam or breaking into your high school? Duh! It just seriously strains credibility.
(Two teens enter the basement, and one of them has a video camera.)
TEEN GIRL: Do you have to film everything? I mean, I’m just looking for a snow shovel, for crying out loud!
TEEN BOY: Yes! I have to film it all!
TEEN GIRL: You’re really annoying. (They exit)
MA: Thank you! It’s about time someone else realized this!
In PROJECT ALMANAC, high school senior David Raskin (Johnny Weston) is rummaging through his deceased dad’s stuff when he discovers his father’s old video camera. While watching a video of his seventh birthday party, he sees himself as he is now– a 17 year-old— in the background at the party. This is the best concept in the movie, by the way, and its most intriguing, but it says a lot that even this part of the movie falls flat. This should absolutely blow these characters’ minds, and it does, but for a far briefer period than you would expect. Also, when viewing this old video, David is able to freeze and enlarge the background image of himself with perfect clarity. Really? I didn’t really buy the fact that he’d able to capture that image from an old video with such high resolution. It’s little things like this that this movie doesn’t really pay attention to.
David then searches his scientist dad’s basement and discovers instructions on how to build a time machine. How convenient! With his sister and his geeky friends Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista) he does just that.
David would like to use this time machine to travel back in time to save his father from the fatal accident which took his life. First however, he wants to test it to make sure it’s safe, and so before you can say Scooby Doo, he and his friends and his new girlfriend Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia) use the machine to travel back in time to go to a concert, pass an exam, get back at a bully, and other trivial matters.
Soon, however, they realize that their time travel adventures have not been without consequence, as the small changes they made had a ripple effect that caused some major events to happen which didn’t happen before. While they had agreed to always travel together, David breaks this rule and travels alone in the hope that he can undo the damage that they caused. Unfortunately, he only makes things worse.
PROJECT ALMANAC is a rather weak entry in the time travel movie genre and is never as good as it should be. The main reason for this is it’s never that clever or creative.
It gets off to a rather slow start, as it takes a long time for David and his friends to build their time machine, and the film drags early on, but even worse is what follows. The decisions these teens make are— well, decisions that teens would make. They travel to a concert, back in time a few days to do better on an exam they messed up. If David really wanted to go back in time to save his dad’s life, he hardly puts any effort into coming up with a plan. In fact, he doesn’t make the jump back to save his dad until the end of the movie, and by that point that’s not even why he’s going back, as he’s changed his mind about his motives. The fact that he was being chased by the police at this moment had something to do with his change of heart, but my point is, David says early on that he wants to use the time machine to save his dad, and then the film never really follows through on this plot point.
I kept expecting bigger things to happen in PROJECT ALMANAC, but they never do. These kids have a friggin time machine! Use it for something interesting already!
(A dinosaur thunders by the cellar window.)
MA: What the—? Could it be that I travelled back in time all the way back to—? Nah. That doesn’t make any sense. This basement wouldn’t still exist if that were the case. Then again, that sure looked like a dinosaur. Nah! That’s impossible. Right?
Anyway, speaking of things that don’t make sense, we’re supposed to believe that of all the characters in the movie, it’s David, who clearly is the smartest character in the group, who decides to jeopardize everything by travelling on his own to change what they had done, that he would think that on his own he could undo the things they did. David’s the last person in this story who should be acting like this. He’s the one who preached from the start about taking time travel seriously and being cautious and careful. I didn’t buy his behavior at the end at all. Sure, he’s doing all this because he doesn’t want to lose his girlfriend, and that’s a strong motivator, but even so, he’s portrayed early on as being smarter than this.
None of the characters did all that much for me. David is likable enough, and Jonny Weston is fine in the role, but I just expected more from the character. In the first half of the movie, he’s described as nearly being a genius, yet at the end, he’s the one making the stupidest decisions and continually messing things up.
Sofia Black-D’Elia makes for a very attractive Jessie, but she and Jonny Weston don’t exactly light up the screen with their chemistry. Sam Lerner and Allen Evangelista are sufficiently goofy as David’s buddies and partners in crime, Quinn and Adam.
PROJECT ALMANAC is another of those movies where the adults are practically nonexistent. The teens blow things up, shout up and down the street in the middle of the night, they steal supplies from their high school, all without any adult noticing.
The screenplay by Andrew Deutschman and Jason Pagan is hardly compelling. For a time travel adventure, it’s lacking in big ideas. PROJECT ALMANAC was directed by Dean Israelite, and he achieves fair results.
I just wanted more time travel issues, and there weren’t many at all. I expected David to put in considerable effort to go back and save his dad. He doesn’t.
PROJECT ALMANAC is nowhere near as tight or intelligent as the recent time travel flick PREDESTINATION. That one had a skintight plot throughout. PROJECT ALMANAC is never as focused or as creative. Its story of a group of teenagers who build a time machine should have been more fun, and if it really wanted to be a serious time travel thriller, than it should have given us some thrills. It’s all rather flat.
It reminded a little bit of the movie CHRONICLE (2012). That one was about a group of teens who discover alien technology which gives them telekinetic powers, and it also featured characters who filmed everything, but CHRONICLE was a much better movie. It was more creative and it went to darker places than PROJECT ALMANAC does.
PROJECT ALMANAC remains rather tame throughout. I expected a lot more from a movie about a teenager who constructs a time machine. At the end of the day, it wasn’t much of a project.
I give it two knives.
Okay, I’m done here. I’d better leave before those teenagers come back.
(There is another strange distortion in time and space, as things get all wavy. Suddenly, MA disappears. Moments later, he reappears, and L.L. SOARES is in the basement with him.)
LS: So, it’s your turn to start this one.
MA: Start it? I just finished it. (Scratches his head.)
LS: What are you talking about?
MA: I think I just travelled through time.
LS: Yeah, right. Let’s get this one started. I still can’t believe I had to sit through this movie. I really wish I could have skipped it.
MA (looks at time machine behind them): You know, where I just came from, you did skip it.
LS: Where did you just come from? You mean that machine back there really works? Let me see that thing.
MA: I don’t think you should be pressing buttons like that. You really ought to be careful—.
(LS presses a button and both he and MA disappear again. MA reappears to find himself watching a group of teens working on their time machine just before they disappear.)
MA: Now I can review today’s movie. Welcome to another edition of Cinema Knife Fight. Today I’m reviewing PROJECT ALMANAC—.