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Can Generation X Enjoy “Project X”?

March 5, 2012

Much has been made lately about how the “found footage” genre born from The Blair Witch Project has expanded to non-horror genres—first, superhero movies with the superb Chronicle, and now teen-party comedies with Project X, which grossed (no pun intended) more than $20 million in its first weekend. But to me, a middle-aged man with a son virtually the same age as the trio of high-schoolers who throw the literally riotous titular shindig, this is not a comedy. It’s a horror film.

In my day, the ultimate teen-party flick was Risky Business—you remember, Tom Cruise dancing around in his underwear to Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock ‘N Roll” and running a prostitution ring out of his absentee parents’ house. It was a more innocent time. And beneath the glib “sometimes, you’ve gotta say ‘what the f—?'” one-liners was a stylish satire of capitalism and American values.

Project X, on the other hand, is so herky-jerky with its hand-held camerawork and weed-eater editing that it barely has time for jokes. The only laughs come from a few lowbrow sight gags—a dwarf punching guys in the nuts, an a-hole neighbor getting tased, a dog levitating in a bouncy house—and they’re all seen in the trailer.

The acting is convincingly amateurish—conveniently, the characters share the same names as the actors, with the exception of Oliver Cooper as Costa, the ringleader and one of the least likable figures in cinematic history. He’s a jerk in a sweater vest who tosses off homophobic and racist slurs and whose views on women make the Mad Men guys seem like Gloria Steinem. Yes, he’s a pubescent Rick Santorum.

Most disappointingly, Project X—no relation to the Matthew Broderick-Helen Hunt monkey tale of my youth—plays out like a conventional teen comedy. The birthday boy has a gorgeous, platonic childhood pal who walks in on him making out with a buxom temptress, leading to a predictable last-act apology. Even the postscripts updating the characters’ fates feel cribbed from National Lampoon’s Animal House, among other, better exercises in adolescent debauchery.

Not surprisingly, this film was produced by Todd Phillips, who seems to be regressing from the relatively mature hedonism of Old School and The Hangover Parts I and II to such high-school high jinks. Like me—and a creepy loser who’s mocked in the movie for showing up at the party after reading about it on Craigslist—Phillips (who started out as an HBO documentarian until charges were raised that he’d staged scenes in Frat House) is in his 40s now. In short, we’re all truly getting too old for this shit.

Should Project X be rated a reverse X—no one over 17 admitted? Post a comment!

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