Review by Jason Godbey, Creative Director, Behind the Rabbit Productions
What if there were a pill that could give you superpowers for five minutes? That’s the premise of the latest action offering from Netflix. The title Project Power refers to a pill that will give the taker superpowers but for just five minutes at a time. Project Power stars Jamie Fox (Ray, Django Unchained) as The Major, a man on a quest to find his daughter who has been kidnapped by the creators of the drug. It also stars Joseph Gordan Levitt (Inception, Snowden) as a New Orleans cop, and Dominique Fishback as Robin, a teenager supporting herself and her mother by dealing Project Power. The three collide as they unravel the mystery of the drug and the people behind it.
The premise is rather ridiculous, a pill that gives people superpowers for five minutes sounds more like a comedy sketch than an action feature, but the film takes itself seriously. It doesn’t wink at the audience or even mention the absurdity of such a pill or people who would ingest it. There is no way to predict what the pill will do. It could make you bulletproof, light you on fire, give you super strength, or it just might kill you. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman show you all of the above in spectacular fashion with crazy action and solid special effects.
On the whole the action is good; we get car chases, gun battles, and super-powered fights. The CGI is solid with effects amplified by some well-employed super slow motion. So much so that the film is barely contained by its online platform. At times the kinetic pace works against the film, and some of the action set pieces can be a bit confusing. Viewers may find themselves saying things like: “Wait. What happened?” and “Where’d that guy come from?”
One set piece, seen through the walls of a glass chamber, is difficult to follow. Conceptually it could be an innovative way to shoot an action scene, but it doesn’t quite work here. Part of the problem is we’re locked in the chamber with a character who is suffering from the effects of the drug, but it’s a character we just met. We don’t have enough time with her to really care about her, so instead of hoping for someone to come save her, we just wish she’d get out of the way.
The silly premise and the wild spectacle of having temporary superheroes and supervillains is elevated by the performances. Jamie Fox brings an intensity that proves he’s an action hero who can carry a movie. Fox kicks so much ass in this film with such confidence that it’s as if he was born for this. It’s a mystery that he hasn’t been cast as a superhero by Marvel or DC. Fox is slated to star as the comic book character Spawn in the upcoming feature from Blumhouse. If this performance is any indication, that should be special.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt doesn’t get too many notes to play as Frank, but he makes it work through his own natural charisma. We don’t get to know much about his character other than he’s a New Orleans cop, and he cares about his city. Does he have a family? Why is he so motivated to stop this drug?
Early on we discover Frank is taking the drug “to level the playing field,” but the film would have been more interesting if it had given him a more specific motivation. Did he lose someone to the drug? What happened to make him want to take the law into his own hands? Unfortunately the movie never tells us.
The real stand out of the piece is Dominique Fishback as Robin. She more than holds her own next to the Oscar winning Fox, and her character is probably the most fleshed out of the three leads. Project Power is a showcase for Fishback who gets to play a wide range of emotion and shows off her ability to rap. She even performs a song for the film’s soundtrack. Audiences will definitely want to see more from her in the future, and if this film does well, she’s sure to come back for the sequel.
Ultimately Project Power is a fun popcorn movie with solid performances and action. If that’s what you’re into, you’re in luck. Given that the outside world is a strange and unpredictable place, this film might be the perfect escape for Netflix subscribers. Viewers probably won’t be thinking about it for days afterward, but it’s definitely worth a watch. It’s a shame Netflix can’t show this one in theaters these days because it would definitely be worth seeing on a big screen.