If you’re Brian Austin Green (or BAG as I affectionately know him), Eminem or just generally wanna see Machine Gun Kelly/Colson Baker set ablaze, “Project Power” (now streaming on Netflix) may be the movie for you. Baker plays Newt and no, he’s not essaying the role of the little girl from “Aliens.”
“Project Power” focuses primarily on a New Orleans teenager named Robin (Dominique Fishback). Robin has aspirations of becoming a rapper (the movie cribs rhymes from Chika), gets in trouble at school and peddles a drug called Power on the streets.
Power is a pill that when ingested can instantaneously give the user superpowers. That’s if all goes according to plan and your physiology – the pill can also explode your person in graphic Cronenbergian glory. If things go swimmingly, you’ll randomly be assigned a specific superpower. The abilities of Mr. Freeze/Iceman, Poison Ivy, Wolverine, The Incredible Hulk, Pyro, Superman (in increased strength and being bulletproof – not flight) and Scarlet Witch are all aped.
Robin slings Power to a cop called Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who uses so he can compete with crooks popping the pills like Skittles. Robin’s low on the Power totem pole – the bigwigs are gangster Biggie (Rodrigo Santoro) and crooked Fed Gardner (Amy Landecker). The baddies have a lackey named Wallace (Tait Fletcher). (I bring Fletcher up not because he’s important to the movie – he’s certainly not – but because I kinda love the dude. He used to rock a Rollie Fingers mustache alongside his beard. This cat has such versatility – he played Thug #1 in “The Accountant,” Thug #2 in “Term Life” and Thug #3 on the newfangled “Magnum P.I.” He’s like a white, 21st century version of Al Leong.) OK, tangent over. Biggie and Gardner screw up by kidnapping and experimenting on Tracy (Kyanna Simpson), who’s the daughter of ex-soldier Art (Jamie Foxx). Art comes to town looking to kick ass, take names and get his little girl back.
“Project Power” accomplishes the rare feat of being both overlong and underdeveloped. Most of the characters aren’t especially well-drawn outside of Robin, but when you’ve got actors as good as Foxx and Gordon-Levitt they can sell their roles with little background. I believed Foxx’s Art cared about both Tracy and Robin because he sold it, which made me care about and root for him despite not really knowing him. Gordon-Levitt is a good-looking cat and a very capable performer, but he’s a little light in the ass to be playing a tough guy cop role. His New Orleans accent is both convincing and laughable, but I gotta give big ups to Gordon-Levitt or the costuming department for the Steve Gleason Saints jersey shout-out. Immensely talented character actor Courtney B. Vance (Check him out as Johnnie Cochran on FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” – seriously, so good!) is on hand for no reason other than to yell, “Badge and gun!,” at Gordon-Levitt. What a waste!
The clear standout of “Project Power” is Fishback as Robin. I was shocked to learn she’s 29 years old when doing research for this review. I didn’t doubt she was a teenager for an instant when watching the film. She handles the rap well, conveys intelligence and vulnerability and is hugely likable. She more than holds her own acting opposite heavyweights like Foxx and Gordon-Levitt. I look forward to seeing more of her in “Judas and the Black Messiah” next year.
“Project Power” is co-directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (“Catfish,” “Paranormal Activity 3,” “Paranormal Activity 4” and “Nerve”), written by Mattson Tomlin (co-writer of the upcoming “The Batman”) and budgeted at over $85 million. It’s simultaneously entertaining and sloppy. Much of the effects work is garish and unconvincing. The action choreography coverage is often confusing. Joost and Schulman’s low budget roots spring from the seams despite now playing with big boy toys. They’re lucky to have cast Foxx, Gordon-Levitt and especially Fishback who elevate the material and make it immensely watchable. “Project Power” is ultimately pretty forgettable – mostly it made me a Fishback fan and left me wanting to visit New Orleans again.