Review- Project Power
A new drug hits the street called power, which allows the user to have superpowers for five minutes, ranging from invisibility, healing, and super strength. Like all drugs, however, it is dangerous, as some superpowers can cause people to overdose or spontaneously combust.
The film follows Art (Jamie Fox) who is looking for his abducted daughter, which leads to him meeting Robin (Dominique Fishback). Robin is an aspiring rapper who takes care of her diabetic mother and is struggling to pay bills. In order to provide for her, she sells power on the street. At first, they have a rocky relationship, but soon she becomes his surrogate daughter as they develop a bigger bond. Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is a New Orleans police officer and is friends with Robin as she supplies him with the pills to do his job. He is also looking for Art as he is believed to be the source of the drug.
First off, the acting is outstanding, Jamie Fox is his usual likeable charismatic self, and it is nice to see Joseph Gordan-Levitt back on the screen instead of subtly voicing characters in animation. Gordan-Levitt is so quick-witted and natural in the role, I almost forgot how good of an actor he is.
Fishback gives a breakout performance as Robin. Even though she is nearly 30 years old, she is believable at playing a teenager. Robin doesn't take the pills but it is clear that her power is spitting bars and rhyming mad verses (sorry). All three of these actors have natural chemistry with each other and the friendship they share is touching and funny; these characters may not be complex, but they still have charismatic and likeable personalities.
Project Power is directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman who also did Nerve. Throughout there are interesting visuals with tracking shots and crane shots of New Orleans showing both the beauty and decay of the city. The film tries to combine different forms of film such as CCTV camera footage and iPhone footage. Robin has a fantasy where she is standing up to her teacher by rapping, and her classmates are shown filming her on their iPhones. The music is very fitting of the setting too and since Robin is an aspiring rapper, it does not feel as forced as it has in other Netflix originals.
Joost and Schulman also like implementing colours in their films, this is notable with the red lights in the clubs and seedy gang hideouts. Another nice use of it is when Shaver is attempting to stop a bank robbery and he does not realise that the robber is using his new powers to camouflage himself in a large painting that implements blue colours.
The action, however, is not so good. Instead of using long shots, the editing is all over the place and the action becomes incoherent and hard to follow. A good example of this is when Art shoves a man’s head through an ice sculpture, and the camera violently jerks away. While it does fit in with the same high energy directing, the action is disappointing as it feels disjointed.
There are some nice special effects on display here with the superpowers. There is a long take where a woman is being tested on within a chamber after she takes a pill which gives her ice powers, and in the background, you see Art dispatching bad guys. On one hand, it is a display of the colourful visuals that the directors are known for, but on the other hand, this sequence feels like it exists just to hide the subpar and uninspired action directing, for the sole purpose of eye candy.
The special effects are not always good either. There's a very goofy scene where one of the characters takes the pill and turns into a giant CGI monster. The effect is so laughable it looks like something you’d see in a bad PlayStation 2 game.
The shots of New Orleans almost resemble a documentary on the poverty of the city but these potential themes are not looked into. The script is not necessarily bad as it is quite funny at times, but with the concept of superhero powers in a pill, the script does not do it justice. No real themes are brought up and at times it feels quite safe as it doesn't fully take advantage of the concept.
It is a familiar formula and while it does not break grounds, it still works. It may be seen as a knock off X-Men, but it's not a bad one. Like the Old Guard, it feels like a pilot to a tv series, but in a world full of soulless superhero films, this is at least a fun one, as it feels like there was some energy put into this. The real power of the film is the powerhouse performances and the likeable relationships between the three actors. It is great to see Levitt again and definitely watch out for Dominique Fishback.