Project Power isn’t just an interesting idea, a entirely fresh take on the modern day superhero film but also an interesting allegory for the modern day drug trade, race and the power and fearlessness it can harness to disastrous extents. While not exactly an origins story, Project Power is a film about climbing out of not only poor decisions but the addiction that comes from not just those decisions but the addiction that Power (the films titular drug) brings.
Set in New Orleans a few weeks after mysterious new drug Power hits the streets that either gives its users 5 minutes of a superpower unique to the user or has the unpleasant side effect of killing the user. As the police try to keep the situation quiet, the arrival of Art (Jamie Foxx), a man on the hunt for the people producing Power, makes the situation in the city much worse. Crossing paths with the principled but hotheaded police officer Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and teenage Power dealer Robin (Dominique Fishback), Art seeks to settle a score and put an end to this orchestrated epidemic.
The irony of a film about a trio of dysfunctional would be superheroes is that almost all of the moments of genuine entertainment revolve around utterly banal moments in their lives when Power doesn’t even come into it. Be it Frank engaging in some inventive but highly dubious police work in his boxers or playing the hero in a drug deal gone sideways, Robin sharing her non-Power related hopes through the medium of rap or Art imparting some comic yet equally moving fatherly advise on the wayward teen at the same time. These three make for some interesting people because the little moments are handled with care. The action filling, the stuff that Power provides dulls these three figures into muted versions of themselves in a film that at first looks and feels different than its Marvel or DC equivalents.
While full of impressively realised CGI, including a take on the human torch that is genuinely terrifying, the overly stylised filming style by directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman makes Project Power a mixture of confused visuals designed to look cool while shying away from any real violence. Be it a shootout in a loading dock where the camera is trapped within a container as the excitement takes place outside or a one take that revolves around an underground nightclub, shot through slowly freezing glass. It’s all designed to feel smart but all it really ends up being is a collection of cheap gimmicks designed to save money and frustrate the audience. These poorly lit and pointlessly complicated moments obscure a plot line that just barely manages to keep you engaged as it rarely justifies your attention, all exposition, no context. Never developing any stakes thanks to a camera intent of avoiding danger and an editor too hungry to cut, making the moments where Power doesn’t rely on a blurry one take a mess of conflicting, flashing images. Instead, Joost and Schulman’s feature plays to the fickle thrills of a premise that grows weary with every newfound ‘power’.
An original premise from writer Mattson Tomlin is the beginning of an idea, one that should be more effective than it ends up being. Despite two great lead performances by Foxx and newcomer Fishback, who gamely navigate a script lacking in substantial character into a film featuring a strong central relationship with Foxx playing the macho but doting father figure while never pushing it and Fishback the embarrassed daughter with a much needed world weary intelligence.
However the film spends too much time with its characters seperated, with Levitt in particular ostracised to the far edges of the films plot right up to the final moments. Although it all culminates in Power’s take on an Avengers team-up, with all three fighting the shadowy organisation with a grip on the city, it never feels like this coming together of a disparate but united group, more a smashing together of unrelated threads into a clumsy patchwork.
While this isn’t the usual franchise building feature Netflix have been pumping out since the release of Bright in 2017, this original idea is messy in all the worst ways. With indecipherable action and half baked plotting, Project Power is not the film it wants to be, its barely even an allegory.