- Dir: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Cast: Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback, Amy Landecker, Courtney B Vance, Allen Maldonado. 15 cert, 113 minutes
With Chris Hemsworth’s Extraction and Charlize Theron’s The Old Guard, Netflix has kept action-movie fans ticking over through the lockdown months. Now comes the enjoyable third instalment in what might be considered an unofficial trilogy of wham-bam romps from the streaming service.
Project Power brims with explosions, overturned cars and actors making the veins on their necks twitch as they exchange gunfire. It’s cheerfully ludicrous – a carnival ride generally clued into its own preposterousness.
Out front, pointing the guns and dodging the explosions, are Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Foxx plays Art, a former soldier and survivor of a nefarious black-ops programme. Gordon-Levitt is Frank, a New Orleans cop obsessed with Clint Eastwood and prepared to go to Dirty Harry lengths if it means beating the criminals.
In near-future New Orleans, a street drug – “Power” – grants the user uncanny abilities straight out of X-Men or Spider-Man. The catch is that you don’t know what the power is going to be until you take the pill – and it only lasts five minutes. Despite the drawbacks of Power, criminals have been merrily stocking up. The result is a spree of robberies featuring perps with chameleonic skin and flaming faces.
Determined to take on the villains at their own game, Frank has recruited drug dealer and aspiring rapper Robin (Dominique Fishback) to supply him with Power. Whenever duty calls, he pops one of the glow-in-the-dark capsules and charges into the fray.
Project Power doubles as a commentary on the ubiquity of superheroes in popular entertainment. But directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (best known for their documentary Catfish) are better at leave-your-brain-in-the-hallway escapism than they are at cultural satire. The concept doesn’t seem to have been thought all the way through; Project Power lacks the geeky internal consistency of, say, Marvel’s Avengers films.
For one thing, if you don’t know which special ability you’re about to receive by taking Power, is it worth the risk? Not least because many of the whizz-bang upgrades are actively harmful, as demonstrated by a scene in which a woman turns into a living replica of Princess Elsa from Frozen, only to choke on her frosted breath.
Art, meanwhile, has his own motivations for cracking the conspiracy which has seen New Orleans turned into a proving ground for this dangerous new technology. There are obvious allusions here towards the manner in which the city was abandoned during Hurricane Katrina. “We know what happened the last time we counted on guys in suits to look out for New Orleans,” declares Frank, in case you missed the point.
The film, from a script by Mattson Tomlin, isn’t subtle. (Tomlin is currently working on the new Robert Pattinson Batman movie.) On the other hand, nor is it really a superhero flick. A big action sequence halfway through serves up a ripe riff on the Incredible Hulk; otherwise, it functions as a lean-burning thriller topped off with plenty of car-chases and shoot-outs.
Still, Foxx and Gordon-Levitt are at least pretending to look like they’re having fun, and Fishback is an endearing wild card. The exotic grittiness of New Orleans – a city literally and figuratively on the edge of America – is forcefully evoked, too. Project Power’s veins may run thick with pure hokum. But it’s hard to object to a film this serious about being silly.