Superpowers are a drug in this fun, incisive action flick
By Diana Beechener
If you could take a pill and have incredible powers for five minutes, would you do it? That’s the sales pitch given to drug dealers in New Orleans as a pharmaceutical company offers them pills to sell on the streets. They’re skeptical at first, but it turns out the pills work. Anyone who ingests a pill is immediately imbued with a random power.
The key word is random. Some people have super strength, some are bulletproof, some get fire powers, and some … just explode. Even with the risk of immediate death, the pills are a hit, with criminals and police alike using them to enhance their lives. After six weeks, New Orleans is flooded with reports of disappearing people and thieves lifting cars over their heads.
The government doesn’t seem too interested in investigating the incidents, but someone is hunting down the dealers and killing them. Cop Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt: 7500), who uses the power pills to fearlessly charge into dangerous situations, begins to wonder why his precinct seems to bury all reports of super powers.
Also asking questions is Art (Jamie Foxx: Just Mercy), a man on a mission to find the source of the pills, as the company behind them is holding his daughter hostage. He doesn’t mind killing a few people to get answers if he must. His quest runs him afoul of Frank, most of the New Orleans police department, and all the pill-pushers.
When Art meets Robin (Dominique Fishback: The Deuce), a young dealer who sells pills to finance her mother’s medical bills, he hesitates to kill her, telling her that if she helps him locate the source of the pills, she will be spared. But can he be trusted?
Brutal, funny, and a pretty entertaining ride, Project Power is a mashup of the mythology of superhero origin stories and the cynicism of The Boys. The film answers pretty quickly what people would do with super powers: commit crimes or act in ways that selfishly benefit themselves. No one is popping a power pill to save a kitten from a tree—they’re robbing banks and trying to incinerate their enemies.
Though the film and directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Nerve) have a rather bleak view of humanity, Project Power is strongest when it examines the softer moments between characters. The relationship between Robin, Art, and Frank is surprisingly heartfelt for such a cynical movie. Both men see vulnerability in Robin and instead of exploiting it as others have done, seek to help her. These relationships are the heart of the film and what makes Project Power more interesting than run-of-the-mill comic book movies.
Making the film work is a trio of good performances from Foxx, Gordon-Levitt, and Fishback. Foxx is great as the quintessential tough-guy, killing people gleefully while doggedly perusing his goal. His Art is a broken man, haunted by his lost child and hoping to make things right. He sees in Robin another chance to save a young girl, an opportunity he can’t pass up.
As Frank, Gordon-Levitt offers a fun take on the cop who plays by his own rules. Throughout the film, Frank continuously compares himself to Clint Eastwood, and is promptly mocked. He doesn’t really fit the tough rogue cop mold; he’s not physically intimidating enough to be scary nor ruthless enough to be feared. He’s a decent guy who’s not above cutting corners to get what he wants. He goes to great lengths to make sure Robin is all right as their tumultuous night turns into a bloodbath.
The heart of the film is Fishback’s wonderful performance as Robin. She’s a smart, capable girl with big dreams and no means. She wants to be a rapper, but is relegated to drug dealing so she can keep her family afloat financially while her mother’s health suffers. Fishback shows Robin’s vulnerability without ever letting her be cowed by the scary situations around her. Robin is tougher than she looks and possibly the only truly altruistic person in the film. The one person focused on doing the right thing is also the one person who never takes the power pill.
While the film has a fun concept and interesting performances, Project Power could have done with a bit of a script polish. The motivations of the villains, and the villains in general are sketchy. They are bad because the movie needs them to be. Unlike the John Wick franchise, Project Power doesn’t bother with world building.
If you’ve exhausted Netflix options like The Old Guard and miss Marvel and DC summer movies, Project Power is a fun, snappy summer blockbuster. The gore makes this movie geared more to adults but it should be fun to watch with older kids and could inspires a lively conversation after the movie about what power you think you’d inherit.
Fair Action * R * 113 mins.