Underpowered blockbuster still good fun
Rated R for violence, bloody images, drug content, and some language
1 hour 53 minutes · Streaming on Netflix
August 19, 2020
Even though movie theaters are closed nationwide, it’s still technically the summer movie season and blockbusters aren’t canceled if Netflix has anything to say about it.
Its latest alt-superhero film, Project Power, follows in the trajectory of recent streaming output like the Chris Hemsworth-starring Extraction and Charlize Theron-starring The Old Guard and continues Netflix’s quest to compete with Hollywood directly with mid-size budget action movies. While it doesn’t quite fill the void of big-budget tentpole entertainment that still has yet to debut on streaming services, Project Power is diverting and fleetingly entertaining enough to earn a spot on one’s Watch Next queue.
Set in near-future New Orleans, the story centers around a newly designed high-tech street drug, known as Power, which grants its taker five minutes of a seemingly random superpower. Some addicts catch on fire like the Human Torch, others have super speed like the Flash, and some unfortunate souls literally explode within moments of taking it.
The dangerous pill soon takes over the local drug market, motivating young dealers like Robin (Dominique Fishback) to step up their game and police officers like Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to be even more vigilant. Power also draws in the presence of The Major (Jamie Foxx), a mysterious man desperate to dissect the distribution chain and take down the equally mysterious forces at the top.
Now that the X-Men film franchise is basically in shambles (save the ever-pending The New Mutants), Project Power serves as a moderately successful stop-gap of a superpower showcase. Co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, whose 2010 documentary Catfish coined a term that has since swam its way into the cultural lexicon, know that Project Power’s power lies mainly in its propulsive setpieces and less in its murky mythology. Though there’s a poignant subtext about overcoming systemic inequality, Mattson Tomlin’s script doesn’t have much else on its mind besides shuffling these three relatively thin characters from place to place so they can level up to the next bad guy.
Thankfully, the trio of performers are all-in for this somewhat silly premise and give it the star power to take things up to the next tier. After a brief reprieve from the limelight, Joseph Gordon-Levitt brings a loose charm and swagger to his rogue cop role that has been sorely missed over the past few years. It’s also good to see Jamie Foxx in an all-out macho lead that reminded me of his work in Django Unchained back in 2012.
But the real scene-stealer is Dominique Fishback, who exhibits terrific chemistry with Foxx and creates what is easily the most authentic character on screen. A bonding scene with Foxx, in which she crafts freestyle raps around words like “seismograph” and “antibiotic,” is arguably more impressive than any of the preceding action sequences.
Like last month’s The Old Guard, Project Power is beset by the same villain issues that have plagued many a superhero movie before it. While it’s fun to watch Gordon-Levitt duke it out with a henchman Powered by ultra-flexibility or watch Foxx take out a whole room of strapped-up baddies, the Men Behind The Curtain are the same old boring bureaucrats we’ve seen in countless action pictures. It doesn’t help that their plan ultimately hinges on several glaring improbabilities that are nearly impossible to square from a logistical perspective.
If you don’t use too much brain power, Project Power is a sleek and suitable digression from these less-than-ideal times.
New to streaming this weekend
Opening in limited theaters is Unhinged, a thriller starring Russell Crowe and Caren Pistorius about a young woman who is harassed by a seemingly unstable stranger following a road rage incident.
Available on Disney+ is The One and Only Ivan, a fantasy starring Sam Rockwell and Angelina Jolie about a gorilla who tries to piece together his past with the help of an elephant as they hatch a plan to escape captivity.
Available on demand is Tesla, an unconventional biopic starring Ethan Hawke and Kyle MacLachlan about visionary inventor Nikola Tesla and his interactions with Thomas Edison.
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