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Project Almanac (2015)
Director: Dean Israelite

review by Andrew Darlington
Spoiler alert!
Project Almanac is a bright flashy feel-good film with a largely likeable cast. A high-school romp with a none-too-serious time-travel twist, and all the familiar temporal conundrums we've come to expect from the genre. Even the cast themselves are well-versed in smart quotes. There's a sharp screenshot from 'Bill and Ted' on their laptop, so quick you might miss it, but providing a knowing wink. And yes, they banter about Timecop and "Terminators 1-to-4." He says "we're Dr Who." She says "who's Dr Who..?" Of course, they're all about 'dude' and 'awesome', they cannibalise their Xbox and integrate their mobile phones to jury-rig their time machine, and while someone suggests "you have to kill Hitler" they duck major historical-manipulation for partying-hard at last year's Lollapalooza.

This is the final pop dilution of a high-concept time-line all the way from H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Robert Silverberg, and Philip K. Dick... except it probably isn't. Time travel is no longer even sci-fi. It's the fractured romance of The Time Traveller's Wife (2009). It is Michael J. Fox inventing Chuck Berry's rock 'n' roll guitar in the first Back To The Future (1985), then getting McBusted into real-world boy-band McFly. It's a Jack the Ripper police procedural thriller in Time After Time (1979). It'll also be reconfigured into next year's movie and the one after that.

Which is not to say this isn't a fun film, because it is; and if you're in the 15-to-18-year-old demographic you'll rate it even higher. Because crop-headed bespectacled Dave Raskin (Jonny Weston) is shooting an audition-film for MIT it legitimises some jerky hand-held intimacy, talking direct-to-camera, with snatched realist dialogue that blends in and out of focus; a diary-recording technique to establish the film's tone. You don't need me to tell you where that comes from. He gets the admission-grade, but not the scholarship grant to make it possible, while getting understandably distracted by leggy cheer-leaders. Girls tend to appear in his life "like mythological creatures," and one in particular - the unattainable Jessie Pierce (Sofia Black D'Elia).

Things start getting regulation-strange when he fast-forwards through his dead father's video camera, back to footage of his own seventh birthday party, and there he is, glimpsed in the mirror, the reflection of his own 17-year-old self. Could it be photo-shopped? No, the camera's been in the attic for a decade. It's as though someone's invented a time machine. "I think we already did build it," he quips.

So what exactly was it his father had been working on? With blonde sister Christina (Virginia Gardner), and geeky nerd friends Adam Le (Allen Evangelista), and Quinn Goldberg (Sam Lerner), they investigate Dad's basement workshop where they find blueprint schematics and a power-box for a 'temporal relocation' device. So they build it. Their first effort fries the batteries. They steal liquid-hydrogen canisters from school in a caper sequence. Then it blows all the lights in the district, but succeeds in sending a toy car back into yesterday.

By now they're a five-piece group, because it's Jessie who urges them to ditch caution and test the device out on themselves. Until they 'change reality' in a storm of cut-up distortion effects, by accidentally bringing a dog back with them from yesterday. And it's as a five-piece that they pledge to work together on its development. No Twitter leaks. No Facebook posts. So how will they use their epic new tech? - "I want to go to the original Star Wars premiere." Quinn uses it in multiple attempts to pass his class chemistry test, as in a Groundhog Day repetition. Bullied Christina uses it to get back at her high-school tormenters. They could "sell this thing to Richard Branson for a zillion dollars."

Instead, they screw the lottery, "I'm going to hire Kim Kardashian to have my babies," quips Adam. Yes, that's the level of cultural reference. How will that play in the TV reruns in ten years time? Jessie complains she was thinking of time-jaunts to see "dinosaurs, or at least Woodstock," as David tinkers to increase its time-range. She settles on Lollapalooza where they watch indie bands Imagine Dragons (doing Radioactive), and Atlas Genius (Electric). He fails to pick up on her enticing reference to 'love', but replays their video-record back to trace the moment of missed opportunity, then goes back in time and kisses her. Instantly, they're sleeping together.

As he reaches back towards that inevitable seventh birthday party event that ignited it all, where he meets his own dead father and reality itself is pixilated, things start going wrong. A plane crash... Adam critically injured in an auto-accident... Jessie erased from time in a ripple effect of changes. Yes, we did that one in The Butterfly Effect (2004). The jerky acceleration takes on a more focused urgency. The mood intensifies. And his increasingly frantic attempts to correct his well-intentioned meddling leads to a decision to go back and un-invent the 'temporal relocation' device itself.

The disc's bonus features include alternate endings to allow for further variations on the open-ended nature of temporal tinkling. This bright flashy feel-good film with its largely likeable cast runs through all the genre-moves you expect, but holds you entertained for its fast-paced 106 minutes. That's probably enough, for now.

Project Almanac



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