Here’s the “all in” moment for Netflix’s latest dabble in super-heroism, “Project Power.”
New Orleans rapper/drug dealer and sidekick Robin (Dominique Fishback) has just been told their next impossible task by pill-popping avenger cop Frank.
“There’s like a THOUSAND guys out there,” she whines. “BAD guys” is implied.
And Frank, who takes moments like this to go all “Clint Eastwood,” instead sounds more like the actor playing him — fanboy fave Joseph Gordon Levitt.
“But you know I’m AWEsome, right?”
And there it is, the movie summarized in tone, tenor, temperament and intelligence. Love that line? Maybe you’ll love this.
Netflix teams up JGL and Oscar winner Jamie Foxx with Fishback (TV’s “The Deuce”) for a thriller about pills that give their poppers superpowers.
They threw a bag of money at the talent and another at the teamed auteurs who gave us “Paranormal Activity 3 and 4” and the guy on deck writing “The Batman” for Robert Pattinson. And what they got is another forgettable superheroes-sans-capes thriller in which the formula that various heroes and villains swallow, in the form of a glowing pill, isn’t the ONLY formula here.
The producers lured two intensely likable stars, a rising star and one killer location — a modern freighter — for an almost head-slappingly simple-minded Military Industrial Complex meets Big Pharma story.
It’s all about the brawls, as assorted characters pop these five-minute-power pills and morph into human chameleons, human fireballs or blokes with skulls so dense no mere bullet can penetrate them.
This pill has flooded New Orleans, and the cops and this interloper calling himself “The Major” (Oscar winner Jamie Foxx) are trying to get to “the source” of said drug epidemic. As the cops are outrun or outfought whenever they’re dealing with somebody who has “the power” for five minutes, this isn’t exactly a fair fight.
The script’s story beats are generic in the extreme, strictly cut-and-paste. The “rapper” girl keeps getting asked to “spit.” The villains keep stopping to make speeches. The two biggest characters can’t figure out if they’re on the same side or not.
But there are moments, clever twists and references, in that screenplay. So let’s give Mattson Tomlin his due. The “city flooded with a drug” by some unseen entity is straight out of “The CIA started the crack epidemic” theory. One villain’s lecture is about Henrietta Lacks.
Levitt’s cop complains to his chief (Courtney B. Vance) about the mysterious figures intervening in many of their arrests.
“We know what happened the last time we counted on guys in suits to look out for New Orleans!” That’s a Katrina reminder of when Republicans made the city the Puerto Rico of its day, with their “let the dark people drown” ethos.
Oscar-winner Foxx mentors the young drug dealer Robin about how she should be dealing less and emulating him more.
“The power goes to where it always goes, to the people that already have it…I’ve got to work the system harder than it works me!”
It’s not the worst movie of the “power from a pill” genre, an idea that dates back decades (TV’s “Mr. Terrific” comes to mind). But that’s one overriding problem here. “Project Power” feels powered-out ten minutes in.
I like the stars, but they don’t give us enough to like here. Check out which New Orleans Saints jersey JGL wears (no accent, just a jersey).
The milieu is new, but the fights — dousing this fireball in water, ducking that guy’s steel ship’s hull denting blows there — are pro forma. Been there, seen it.
The odd funny line or pointed history lesson or lecture on politics, drugs and “the little people” aside, this “Project Power” doesn’t add up to anything new.
This is just an overdressed, over-budgeted version of stupid.
MPAA Rating: R for violence, bloody images, drug content and some language
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Dominique Fishback , Rodrigo Santoro, Amy Landecker and Courtney B. Vance.
Credits: Directed by Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, script by Mattson Tomlin. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:53