By now Netflix has really cemented that its slate of action films, will always be a cut above TV movies but remain marginally inferior to mainstream box office releases. This is complicated by the glossy high budget look of the films. Netflix seems eager to ensure that their films certainly look the part of well produced box office tentpoles, with top of the line VFX teams at their disposal.
However, for some reason or the other, nearly all action movies to come out from the studio, fall short when it comes to the actual narrative. The best example of this would be the streaming service’s August release, Project Power, a lifeless vapid action flick that has everything going for it but a story.
Project Power stars Jamie Foxx as Art, a mysterious man intent on finding out where a mysterious drug that gives super powers is coming from. The movie also stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a cop with some rather questionable antics and newcomer Dominique Fishback as a drug dealer and aspiring rapper.
Although the film’s focus on the urban black community in America, separates it from the world of lily white superhero movies, the movie pulls out just about every superhero film cliché you could think of, ultimately becoming a film you won’t revisit anytime soon.
Directed by duo Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman from Paranormal Activity 4, Project Power is a standard superhero origin story that tries to do emotional storytelling under the guise of something more grounded.
The movie’s attempts at hyper realism are its weakness because the writing just isn’t strong enough to make those elements shine. Despite the movie’s inclination to connect to the political under goings in America, the stable of weak characters and an unimaginative plot are its undoing.
There is a never ending possibility of the kinds of abilities the drug can bring out, as each person who takes the pill unlocks an innate ability ranging from something simple as invisibility, to more obscure ones like being able to heal organic matter.
Despite the heavy $80 million budget, you can see where Netflix drew the line based on the limited amount of powers they showcase. There does feel need for more spectacular action scenes or at least something bigger than the few smaller ones that don’t nearly make enough of an impression.
One clever choice the movie makes, is in underlining the price of power more clearly than one would expect. With the drug, granting power for only 5 minutes, the movie depicts the toll it takes on individuals, depicting superpowers in a harsher light than you see in most genre films.
It is a shame that the movie doesn’t dig deeper than its on the nose statements, about the abuse and unequal distribution of power. The movie also feels a little corny with its stereotypical approach to its characters. From Jamie Foxx’s slick lead to Gordon-Levitt’s too cool for rules cop, you’ve seen versions of these characters almost a hundred times before.
The worst victim of this though, is Dominique Flashback, the aspiring rapper with an ill mother and a name befitting a sidekick, Robin. Despite a good performance, there’s nothing to back her up with such bad creative decisions.
The cast overall is pretty great, Rodrigo Santoro, Courntey B. Vance, Amy Landecker and Colson Baker are terrific supporting characters. With the spotlight fixed firmly on the trio though, no other character gets a chance to play a fuller role.
The movie is written by Mattson Tomlin who is co-writing the highly anticipated new Batman movie and is a fairly new writer. That is pretty evident from the all round rough edges of this film and the reluctance to add more flair in the story. Michael Simmonds’ cinematography though, is a highlight and does its best to give the movie a more elegant sheen.
In the lieu of the global box office being a ghost town during to the raging Covid-19, Project Power is a serviceable trip to generic superhero territory. It likely won’t be the kind of franchise starter Netflix is hoping it will, but there is enough potential to generate more buzz should the streamer decide to revisit the world with a different team.