Directed by Dean Israelite
Starring Jonny Weston, Sofia Black D’Elia, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, Virginia Gardner
There have been great time travel movies. There have been great teen movies. There’s even been a few great teen time travel movies – one trilogy in particular springs immediately to mind – so you can kind of see the train of thought that resulted in the creation of Project Almanac, a cheerfully cheap found footage flick that lifts concepts and conceits from a dozen better movies but fails to do anything of worth with them.
David (Jonny Weston) is a high school genius with brains enough to be a once-in-a-generation scientific mover and shaker – if he can get a scholarship. Rejected from MIT, he rummages through his late father’s old projects for something he can pass off as his own to score a last ditch endowment and finds the specs for what appears to be a time machine. Enlisting the help of his best friends (Sam Lerner and Allen Evangelista) and sister (Virginia Gardner), David soon has a working prototype, but the temptation to meddle with the past proves too much for him, especially when his temporal experiments impress his crush, Jessie (Sofia Black D’Elia).
As the paradoxes and alternate timeless pile up, Project Almanac’s actual cause-and-effect plot becomes harder and harder to discern, but what really comes into focus is the fact that the film’s three screenwriters have seen a lot of other time travel movies. In a way, it’s kind of cool, in that they pass that genre savviness onto their characters, having David and his friends namecheck Looper and The Terminator, and it makes sense that media-smart teens wouldn’t be completely blown away by the concept of time travel. The problem is that, in doing so, they highlight how much better and more thoughtful those films are. Project Almanac is simply too lazy to work through any of the ideas it raises, either narratively or thematically.
It also suffers from some of the worst pacing in living memory, spending almost half the running time with David and his crew tinkering in the basement before they start jumping through time, and then stopping the movie dead in its tracks so the gang can jump back to Lollapalooza for one of the most tedious live music sequences ever committed to film, before rushing to wrap up the rest of the plot.
For all that, the young cast are game enough, with Weston in particular showing his chops as David becomes more and more desperate as events inevitably spiral beyond his control. He even manages to invest the film’s clumsy attempts at pathos – you don’t put a dead parent in a time travel film lightly – with some weight.
Project Almanac is a cynical film, designed to divest teenagers of their money for a weekend or two before disappearing from the screens and the collective unconscious forever. What charms it possesses are almost entirely accidental, but it’d be disingenuous to deny they exist. Still, you won’t have to try too hard to find something better to spend your time on.