There were parts of Project Almanac that even the two oldest adults in the Saturday matinee at the semi-stuffed movie theater could appreciate. For a film with power producer Michael Bay’s name prominently placed above the title and time travel as the theme, the special effects were thankfully tasteful. Smallish, actually, considering what could have been in this tale that has five teenagers jumping backward first days and then months after siblings David and Christina Raskin find a video camera in the attic that leads them to a secret project their dead father had hidden under the basement floorboards.
That gets the story off to a running start, much to the delight of me and my dear wife Karen. David and his two best friends are science and technology nerds, and when he sees himself in that video taken at his seventh birthday party, they’re convinced they have to help him do what it takes to put the pieces together to make this time travel thing work.
Could this be this year’s The Fault of Our Stars perhaps? It’s what I’m rooting for at this point.
And that’s where the young adult segment of the audience gets happy. Takes over, really. The three buds are joined by camera girl Kathy and Jessie, David’s beautiful-girl-in-school crush who becomes one of the gang because she’s got a hybrid car with the proper battery to power the machine and stumbles onto their secret. So they huddle together in that basement and use it to do the kinds of things every high school teenager would die for if they had such a miracle machine. Cure cancer, end war … well, they do discuss taking out Hitler, but no, this bunch instead prefers to go back to the halls of their high school and make sure one of them doesn’t fail chemistry, and another doesn’t get bullied. Woodstock is out of the machine’s time range, but Lollapalooza and Imagine Dragons are theirs for the taking.
This is all shot in handheld-camera style, harking back to Blair Witch Project at worst or Real World at best, kind of jumpy, full of quick cuts, purposefully messy, filled with some scary scenes and some happy scenes. Yes, it is kind of like MTV.
And that’s before things really start going wrong, and David tries to handle things by being the adult in the group by taking matters into his own hands.
The five young actors, particularly Jonny Weston as David and Sofia Black-D’Elia as Jessie, all turn in solid and believable performances, though there’s just as much chemistry between Weston with Sam Lerner and Allen Avengelista as pals Quinn and Allen and Virginia Gardner as sister Kathy as there is between Weston and Black D’Elia as the budding beaus. The best times are when all five are grooving, really.
The story, written by Andrew Deutschman and directed by Dean Isrealite, keeps hinting at bigger and better things. Adult things. Serious things. The grownups in the film had small parts. Mom played by Amy Landecker tells David she’s going to sell the family home because although he was accepted, MIT only came through with chump scholarship change. Dad, played by Gary Weeks, shows up on that video and again for a reunion with his grown son visiting from the future, perhaps to change their paths forever.
Doesn’t it sound like I’ve gone and spoiled it for you?
Unfortunately, both of those meaty subject lines were shoved aside for more adolescent matters of the heart and mind.
Mark Bialczak is a veteran journalist who has lived in the Syracuse area since 1983. In early 2013, he was set free to write about whatever he wants. Click here to read Mark’s BLOG.