REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER/For Digital First Media
“Project Almanac” is a mash up of two problematic genres, found footage and time travel. The result is less than propitious.
David Raskin (Jonny Weston) is a high school senior and aspiring inventor. He has just been admitted to MIT Getting into the prestigious school is great news. The bad news is that they’re only offering him a $5,000 in scholarship. That’s not nearly enough to enable him to matriculate.
So, David’s mother, Kathy (Amy Landecker), puts the family home up for sale. David is clearly discomfited by this and attempts to find an alternative source of funding.
David and his younger sister Christina (Virginia Gardner) go rooting around the attic. They discover a video cam that belonged to their late father, Ben Raskin (Gary Weeks). Dad died in a fatal car accident some 10 years ago, after he abruptly departed David’s seventh birthday party. Of course, the immediate question is how did they never notice the video cam? It was out in plain sight in the attic, not buried in some secret hiding place.
The video cam contains footage from David’s seventh birthday, which was shot by his dad. Here’s another lapse in logic. Dad rushed from the party with the video cam, then was killed in auto crash. SO …. how did the video cam make it from the crashed car to the attic of the family home?
It gets weird. David, Christina, and two of David’s nerdball friends, Adam Le (Allen Evangelista) and Quinn Goldberg (Sam Lerner) watch the tape. In the background, a reflection of seventeen-year old David appears in the mirror of an armoire. How is it possible for a current version of David to appear in the tape taken a decade before? Stranger still, the videotape image of David is wearing the exact same T-shirt that he currently has on.
David decides to enter his father’s basement laboratory and see what he can find there. So, it’s been a decade since Ben Raskin died, but his family still allocates most of their basement to his now inactive lab. Bear in mind that David is an aspiring inventor, just like his dad. Doesn’t it strain credulity that David never checked out his dad’s lab in the ten years since his death?
Now that David is belatedly rummaging around his dad’s lab, what does he find? Mirabile dictu! It’s a design for a temporal relocation machine that dad was building for the U.S. military. So dad was working on some classified project for the government and they just loses track of it when he dies?
How can David and his crew be expected to resist the impulse to build a time travel machine based on the newly discovered plans? They are missing just one component, hydrogen canisters, which they purloin from their high school.
Once built, how can they possibly not use the time travel machine to go for a jaunt? All they need is a quick source of energy. They use the battery of a car, which belongs to David’s long-time crush, Jessie Pierce (Sofia Black D’Elia), As the quartet is about to depart, Jesse comes running out of the party that she is attending. Jesse demands to go along with them.
They make one brief experimental foray to the day before. It works, so they are emboldened to venture firth back in time .
So, of all the periods in history, which should they attend? One of them suggests going back in time and assassinating Hitler before he can kill millions of innocent civilians.
Instead, they go back in time to an even more pivotal historical event — Lollapalooza. The travel back three months before and party hearty in quintessential adolescent fashion. David finally spends some quality time with Jesse, the object of all his teen-boy romantic fantasies. Alas, at a key juncture, David says just the wrong thing and the promising vibe between them is vitiated.
What to do? Why not just go back in time repeatedly until he gets it right and Jesse falls in love with him?
Can people go back in time repeatedly without disrupting the course of history? As we have seen in numerous other time travel films, making the slightest revision in the past triggers a cascade of revisions in subsequent events. Some of these may prove catastrophic.
“Project Almanac” was made back in 2013 and then lost in distribution shuffle. It went through a series of name changes, including “Cinema One,” “Almanac,” and “Welcome to Yesterday.” Now that it has received a belated theatrical release, it turns out to be innocuous, albeit totally unnecessary. It is simply another reiteration of the same old hackneyed formula. Moreover, it persistently violates much of its own internal logic as time travel films are wont to do.
Neither the screenplay by Jason Harry Pagan and Andrew Deutschman nor the direction by Dean Israelite add anything new to prior explorations of the same notions. In quality, it is totally eclipsed by “Chronicle,” an edgier and far better depiction of adolescent abuse of newfound powers.
The found footage premise in “Project Almanac” ends up being a lost cause.
** PG-13 (for some language and sexual content) 106 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at email@example.com.