Pass the Dramamine–please! Follow this haphazard, ludicrous plot of “found footage” in this somewhat suspenseful YA (young adult) movie about time travel. Project Almanac is one of the last films to round out the cinema cemetery (otherwise known as January), and proves to be an excellent anchor for all the other first-of-the-year nationwide releases. From the moment the movie opens with the horrendous found footage concept that does nothing except cheapen the production value of a narrative film until the time the credits role, you will feel the journey is blasé and very much par for the course. Like the movie’s characters time jump, I think the writers must have “jumped” too much while crafting this cinematic schlock because the plot follows no set structure and way too many plot devices are employed yet rarely fully explained. Prepare for an utterly random journey through time that is clearly a bad discount knockoff of a combination of Groundhog Day, Looper, and The Butterfly Effect.
Project Almanac is about boy-genius David (Jonny Weston) and his small group of friends who accidentally discover the blueprints to a science project left in hiding by David’s long-deceased father. In addition to the blueprints, there are parts to begin the project, and the group of friends complete the design and take it for a spin through time. Unbeknownst to everyone, with each jump, the present is changed. Many changes are for the better, but darker and more negative consequences of altering the past begin to impact the health and wellness of many others in the present. When the group tries to fix the past to repair the future, they just keep getting in deeper and deeper until they are overwhelmed and lost in both mind and body. David and his friends must discover how to repair the present before lives are completely destroyed by the ripple effects of jumping from time to time.
Let me begin by stating that I am very much biased towards found-footage movies that should be told through traditional cinematography. I find them to be cheap, vomit inducing, sloppy films that only show why so many people are more interested in the next episode of The Walking Dead or American Horror Story than attending the cinema each week. Found-Footage is a gimmick that works for very few films. Exceptions that benefit from the found-footage concept are The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity (and related films). It does not work for traditionally scripted films that benefit from a coherent plot structure. Instead, what happens is these types of films are so busy making the movie look like it was shot by an amateur that they forget to spend time on the writing and direction of the narrative. Moreover, how is it possible that all the cameras used by the group of friends all capture excellent audio and the conversations transition seamlessly from scene to scene???
Found-footage cinematography aside, the plot is poorly thought-out and even more lazily executed. There are more questions raised than answers provided to move the plot along. For starters, how believable is it that these high school students–even if they are the absolute top of their class and maybe even state–know the very intricacies of the complex field electrical engineering that typically takes many years in undergrad and graduate school to master? Essentially, the story is unbelievable from the very beginning. Yes, this is a work of fantasy/science-fiction, but the thing about science-fiction is that it is encumbered upon science enough to be believable within the world of fantasy around it. Secondly, in order to best understand the story, you almost need to have a pen and paper handy to draw a map of the different times and events in order to follow the characters throughout the narrative. Movies should never just expect the audience to just accept something just for the sake of accepting it in order to advance the story along. Science-fiction movies require explanations along the way to keep the story coherent.
If you want to completely check out for an hour and forty-five minutes, or have nothing else to do this weekend, then check out Project Almanac. But if you miss it in theaters, this looks like one that will be in the RedBox at Walgreens or On-Demand on your satellite or cable provider before you know it. At least Einstein’s Theory of Relativity gets hurriedly cited in an attempt to somehow ground the film in reality. Get ready to become lost in a dizzying plot that wanders through time as you wonder why you are still in your seat.