Project Power is a supernatural action thriller from the mind of Mattson Tomlin, a bold new Hollywood screenwriter who also co-wrote The Batman with Matt Reeves. The film features a cool cast in Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Dominique Fishback and is directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who initially broke onto the scene with the weird documentary, Catfish.
Originally called Power, the story has similarities with a comic book series, Powers, about two homicide detectives tracking people with special innate abilities. Project Power deals with an ex-soldier, a gung-ho detective and an aspiring teenage rapper, whose paths intertwine in the hunt for a cartel peddling a dangerous drug in New Orleans that gives its users supernatural abilities for 5 minutes. It’s a fresh concept in an age of played out superhero origin stories, set against a foreboding world not unlike Gotham City. The high concept and mood triggered studios who entered a bidding war for Tomlin’s screenplay and set in motion his involvement with the new Batman starring Robert Pattinson.
Jamie Foxx hasn’t had the best run of luck when it comes to superhero movies if you recall his turn as Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. While dabbling with the superhero dimension, this film is more in tune with Luc Besson’s film Lucy in its connection with the animal kingdom. Fans of superhero films may be somewhat disappointed that this element isn’t more of a focus for the primary characters. Still, the theme around addiction, testing and crime sprees in a beleaguered city has its own raw power.
Jamie Foxx’s character is a blend between Man on Fire and Taken, exacting the same level of brutality in carrying out his brand of street justice. Aligned as a bad guy as Art, he’s complicated by his troubled past, which is relayed through flashbacks. Taking young Robin under his wing, first with force, the two forge a curious kinship as their missions become congruent. Dominque Fishback is charming and spunky as young Robin, adding some heart and spirit to Project Power. Completing the unlikely trio is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Frank, an undercover detective and wannabe maverick. The character is a blend between Robert Patrick in Terminator 2 and Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry. Gordon-Levitt seems to be aiming for something more akin to Mark Wahlberg, even going shirtless at one point to complete the every man hero comparison.
“What do you not understand by TWO sugars?”
Project Power starts off with a blazing logo and continues this intensity through its driving soundtrack and full-tilt intensity. It’s designed to never let up, taking its audience from one blistering action set piece to another. Using bits of humour to offer some welcome comic relief from time-to-time, it continues its relentless chase down as Art and Robin use their wits to stay ahead of the feds and track down the drug cartel’s lynch pin. Offing bad guys along the way, the story builds like a beat ’em up arcade game downing one mid-tier boss after another.
The visual effects are explosive from the get-go, keeping the pacing breathless and worshiping the fresh concept. Much like a literal man on fire, Joost and Schulman charge headfirst and go all-out in relaying this action thriller to screen. Having positioned themselves as directors who deliver budget-busting features through their years of Paranormal Activity and concept features Nerve and Viral, this stellar vehicle was a springboard. While light on story, Project Power gives us just enough snippets of character to keep us invested. It’s a breathless, furious, never-say-die actioner packed with attitude and firing on all cylinders – but it doesn’t quite gel.
Project Power is a bit of a magpie, combining enforcers from Man on Fire and Taken as well as elements from films such as Precious, Limitless and Uncut Gems. Precious comes through as the story embroils itself in a tough mother-daughter relationship, an impoverished neighbourhood and crippling circumstances for a young girl trying to follow her dreams. The cautionary tale of an addictive super drug and its users, echoes the flash and excitement of Limitless. Then, the gritty mood, fuzzy intensity, commitment to music, unconventional casting and string of bad guys and tricky situations is reminiscent of Uncut Gems.
The supernatural crime thriller doesn’t quite grab hold of its promising premise, borrows quite liberally from better films and keeps things a bit too lightweight to punch with substance. It is however a solid popcorn flick backed by decent performances, full-tilt attitude, dripping in mood and festering in style with a soundtrack to match its swagger. There’s an opportunity for a sequel and perhaps this would give them the chance to explore these characters and the true potential of the story in greater depth.
The bottom line: Relentless