"Project X": Burnin' Down the House

Review of "Project X," the new R-rated teen comedy

by Glenn Lovell

The brain trust behind “Project X” wants you to think of their ambitious new opus as a game-changer ‒ the “Ben-Hur” of teen sex farces. They’ve taken the high school house-party formula and multiplied everything by 10 ‒ ten times the profanity, ten times the projectile vomiting, ten times the jackass stunts, ten times the angry dwarf jokes … ten times the topless babes. The only thing not multiplied by 10 is the guest list. By someone’s reckoning, after the invite goes viral, there are between 1,500 and 2,000 drop-by revelers. So at least on that score producers Todd Phillips and Steve Richards can honestly promo their epic as boasting “a cast of thousands.”

Missing in this desperate amalgam of every teen movie from “National Lampoon’s Animal House” to “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” to “American Pie” to “Superbad” are such minor considerations as humor and originality. Once upon a time, there was an attempt ‒ usually a lame attempt, I grant you ‒ at story, character development and off-beat casting. (Don’t forget Sean Penn and Jonah Hill got their start in this scruffy sub-genre.) Fans of anarchic comedy, I’m guessing, will be glad to hear there’s little resembling plot or motivation here to slow things down. What they’ll make of the filmmakers’ hypocritical fade-out and PG-13 chaste restraint when it comes to total nudity is another matter.

“Project X” -- now at the Regal Cinemas Riverfront in Santa Cruz and other area theaters -- opens predictably with a trio of North Pasadena high-schoolers planning a 17th birthday bash when one of their number’s parents are conveniently away. Costa (Oliver Cooper) is the arrogant (“I can fix it”) organizer who sees the ultimate party as a fast-track ticket to the in-crowd; Thomas (Thomas Mann) is the timid birthday boy who’s forever trying (ineffectually) to scale things back; J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) is the chubby dimwit who embarrasses even his clueless clique. Dax (Dax Flame) is behind the camera, recording it all for posterity ‒ and presumably, when the neighborhood is engulfed in flames, the local D.A..

Everything goes pretty much as expected when too many classmates shoehorn their way into the backyard and, eventually, the “off limits” house. The family pooch goes airborne; beer, grass and ecstasy are consumed in staggering quantities; a neighbor calls the cops when things reach critical mass; an angry drug dealer (the only funny character) arrives in a makeshift suit of armor brandishing a flamethrower. And before you can say “National Lampoon’s Armageddon,” a S.W.A.T. team is on the scene. Is Thomas punished after his bacchanalian rite of passage? Of course not. Didn’t you learn anything from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”? As for the viewer, he takes the brunt of the punishment as Thomas reverts to his old sweet self for an ending that’s more hearts-and-flowers than hardcore hedonism.

PROJECT X ✮ With Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Dax Flame, Kirby Bliss Blanton. Directed by Nima Nourizadeh; scripted by Matt Drake, Michael Bacall. 88 min. Rated R (for profanity, nudity, farcical violence)

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