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On Netflix: PROJECT POWER (2020)

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PROJECT POWER
(US - 2020)

Directed by Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman. Written by Mattson Tomlin. Cast: Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback, Rodrigo Santoro, Courtney B. Vance, Amy Landecker, Colson Baker, Allen Maldonado, Tait Fletcher, Andrene Ward-Hammond, Kyanna Simpson, CJ LeBlanc, Jazzy De Lisser, Corey DeMeyers, Casey Neistat. (R, 112 mins)

If you can imagine Michael Mann directing a hard-R comic book movie, you'll have some idea what to expect with at least the visual and stylistic elements of the Netflix Original film PROJECT POWER. Scripted by Mattson Tomlin (also a co-writer of the forthcoming THE BATMAN) and directed by the "Henry & Rel" team of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, best known for the documentary CATFISH and the third and fourth PARANORMAL ACTIVITY entries (they're the ones behind that memorable "fan cam" in the third one), PROJECT POWER scratches that big-budget, VFX-driven summer blockbuster itch that we've been deprived of on the big screen and likewise, its story doesn't hold up under much scrutiny.






New Orleans is the epicenter of a new drug epidemic in the form of Power, given out for free to the city's biggest dealers by severely-scarred criminal Biggie (Rodrigo Santoro). Six weeks later, the city is reeling over the effects of Power, which grants its users unlimited strength and superhuman capabilities in five minute bursts per dose. Everyone's reaction to Power is different--you might become impervious to bullets, you might be set ablaze like Ghost Rider, you might turn into a variation of The Incredible Hulk, it might give you the chameleon-like power of camouflage, or you might have a bad reaction and just melt or explode. Hard-nosed NOPD cop Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) plays by his own rules and goes out on his own sting operations with the help of informant and aspiring freestyle rapper Robin (THE DEUCE's Dominique Fishback), a high-school student who deals Power to pay for her mother's (Andrene Ward-Hammond) cancer treatments. Frank thinks New Orleans' criminal element will use Power to wipe out the cops, but his boss Capt. Crane's (Courtney B. Vance) hands are tied, since every time there's a major bust involving Power, government mystery men in suits and military vehicles show up to pull rank and cut the cops out of the equation.


Frank, Crane, and the government goons are all after "The Major" (Jamie Foxx), a fugitive vigilante who's just arrived in town to track down the source of Power. He immediately has a throwdown with high-on-his-own-supply Power dealer--and Robin's cousin--Newt (Hollywood still trying to make Colson "Machine Gun Kelly" Baker happen) that results in the dealer's explosive death. The cops are led to believe The Major is behind all the mayhem, but he's really after his daughter Tracy (Kyanna Simpson), who appears to have fallen victim to the Power epidemic and has disappeared. But there's more to the story, namely a government conspiracy involving a Tuskegee-type military experiment called "Teleios"  that went south in a botched attempt to create the next stage in humanity's evolution. They've been unable to control the results and instead partnered with the criminal element to use the residents of New Orleans as lab rats. Eventually, The Major, Frank, and Robin will join forces, with a nefarious government agent (Amy Landecker) in hot pursuit, and it all ends up--where else?--at an industrial dockyard with cargo ships and stacks of shipping containers.





As far as high concepts go, PROJECT POWER has an intriguing one, but it's a concept that relies too heavily on plot convenience, as almost everyone who takes a dose of Power ends up having it provide exactly the kind of indestructibility they need at that moment (Frank secretly doses on it, and takes a pill right before he gets shot in the head and of course, the bullet leaves a mark but bounces right off of him). With a synth-driven score by Joseph Trapanese and its use of garish color schemes, PROJECT POWER is always fun to watch and it moves fast enough that you won't really question its flaws until it's over. But like Netflix's recent THE OLD GUARD, it's an assembly-line product that won't really stick with you afterward. Not that it really matters, but the closing credits containing a separate "additional photography" crew, cast members, and stunt personnel for just the shipyard climax could be an indication of some hasty eleventh-hour reshoots.



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