Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have been directing together since 2010’s Catfish, the documentary that caused a stir for showcasing deception within social networks. It became such a talked-about movie that “catfishing” is now part of everyday vernacular. Since then, the pair have worked steadily, making the transition from non-fiction to fiction.

Based on a script from Mattson Tomlin, Project Power is a sci-fi actioner which co-stars Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It focuses on a new drug called “Power” which can provide its users unpredictable, superhuman powers for five minutes. Foxx plays The Major, a man looking for Power’s distributor. Gordon-Levitt plays Frank, a New Orleans cop who’s after The Major, believing The Major is the main supplier. Robin (Dominique Fishback), a student, aspiring rapper and part-time dealer, is the link since she can help point the way to real suppliers.

There are three storylines working – The Major (who tricks and abducts Robin), whose backstory is a mystery; Frank, who's also a user; and Robin, a teenager who deals in order to provide care to her diabetic mother. Their paths all intersect because of Power – and, of course, there is a more clandestine reason for the drug’s existence.

Project Power messes around with the “with great power comes great responsibility” motif, something which is always attached to superhero films (and was specifically referenced in two Spider-Man films).

Yes, this is, in many ways, a superhero film. These superheroes, though, aren’t the typical, infallible kind – Tomlin attempts to make Project Power accessible by providing these brief powers to normal everyday people, like The Major and Frank. It's a winning assertion once their backstories are revealed, particularly The Major's.

There’s a decent amount of action, enough to provide a good dose of entertainment. Also, its special effects match the $ 85.1 million budget, but it's inconsistent (one character turns into a flightless Human Torch – good; another turns into a super-strong giant - bad). And there’s an element of danger that comes with using the pill – users could instantly die instead of gaining temporary powers. That uncertainty works in the story’s favor, too, but sadly that’s as deep as the story gets.

Tomlin, Joost and Schulman fail to explore some of Project Power’s more obvious moral dilemmas – notably Frank’s usage. He’s buying from Robin (it’s established they are friends because of that), a conflict of interest on many levels. Frank's story could’ve been a separate film, since exploring the corruptibility of police is always intriguing (and obviously timely). But Frank is portrayed as a truly good guy who just wants to level the playing field, so that stone was left unturned.

The Major’s story provides the biggest arc – when his true intentions are revealed it clearly runs parallel to films like 1985’s Commando and 2008’s Taken. Project Power, though, isn’t as cartoonish as the former (although it could’ve used some camp) and surprisingly more realistic than the latter (I mean, c’mon, Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills locates his kidnapped daughter with as much ease as blinking). That makes sense - Project Power is very middle-of-the-road.

The performances are strong, though. Foxx plays up the soft guy with a tough exterior routine very well – early on I didn’t like him, mainly because I didn’t know what he was up to. But once The Major “softened” up, I rooted for him the rest of the way.

Gordon-Levitt is excellent, although I wasn’t happy with how poorly developed his character was. JGL clearly is good enough to elevate a role, which is exactly what he had do. Finally, Fishback held her own opposite Foxx and Gordon-Levitt. She stole some scenes and was very good - hopefully this role will land her plenty of future work.

Tony Award and Primetime Emmy Award winner Courtney B. Vance co-stars but his presence is nothing more than an extended cameo. Disappointing because he's always at the top of his game. What a waste.

One item of note – Tomlin’s latest screenwriting effort is 2021’s The Batman, which he co-wrote alongside The Batman director Matt Reeves. Hopefully Project Power (and Reeves, who wrote 2010's Let Me In and 2017's War for the Planet of the Apes) taught Tomlin plenty when he sat down to that DC film project.

Project Power is an entertaining actioner that works when you don’t delve into morality issues it raises (yet fails to explore). It shines brightest during the action set pieces, but the action could’ve had more impact had more time been taken to build an emotional foundation. Luckily, its three leads are talented enough to make up for that. Thus this Project is the better for it, just not great.

2.5 stars out of 5


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