Movie Review - Project Almanac
The core story is that a young man gets the ability to time-travel into the past and he gets the ability to do so from his father. The usual problems of altering the timeline and having to fix them are at hand. This exact premise is the same as About Time (2013). It deals with similar issues, but this film wades into the mechanics and science of the whole thing, which bog the majority of the narrative down.
A lot of critics have had enough of the found-footage technique. It is frustrating and ostensibly distracting, but it wasn't my chief criticism here. The movie wastes half its running time on building the time-travel device and then muddles the back half or last third trying to weave a The Butterfly Effect and Edge of Tomorrow-type thriller, and writer Andrew Deutschman and Jason Pagan and director Dean Israelite bungle it.
Jonny Weston stars as David Raskin, a high school senior in Georgia who is applying to enter MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He's only 17-years-old but he's extremely smart. He's a young inventor. He understands computing, programming, mechanics and electronics. He can create an iPhone app as well as repair a car's engine. Despite having lost his father at a young age to an accident, David's only real problem is his inability to talk to the pretty girl he likes.
A big deal is made when David finds a video of his 7th birthday party. The video has a shot of David at his present age on it. This leads David, his sister Christina, played by Virginia Gardner, and his two best friends, Quinn and Adam, played respectively by Sam Lerner and Allen Evangelista, to discover a time machine left behind by David's father.
The problem is that his father only left blueprints. It's up to David to build the thing chip by chip and figure out a way to power it. This is a problem not only for David but also for the movie-going audience who have to sit and watch him build and test the machine. This turns out to be boring and a waste of about a hour. It's also unbalanced. The movie focuses so much on the nuts-and-bolts of building the machine, but it totally skates over the time-travel paradoxes of such a machine.
It's always ridiculous to scrutinize or try to analyze the time-travel paradoxes. It falls under the rubric of suspension of disbelief. This film references Looper and The Terminator, which are movies that fall under that rubric as well. There are other films like Primer that invite you to scrutinize and analyze the science and the paradoxes. Because this movie focuses so much on the nuts-and-bolts, it feels like it's similarly making the same invitation as Primer, but it doesn't handle it nearly as well.
When it comes to time-travel movies, there are two basic paradoxes that one needs to consider. One paradox is the one timeline theory that argues that even if you had a time machine, you can't change the past. The Terminator films operated under this paradox. The TV series Lost dealt with time travel in its fourth and fifth seasons and it too operated under this paradox. The second or other paradox is the multiple timelines or the parallel universe theory that argues you can change the past and thus create alternate realities. Back to the Future and its sequel famously operated under this paradox.
Things get dicey when a movie tries to operate under both paradoxes at the same time. Operating under one paradox or the other is easier because it establishes rules that can be followed from beginning to end. Operating under both forces confusion because there are then too many and thus no rules.
The first time-travel scene in this film suggests that it's operating under the first paradox, the one timeline theory. The next time-travel scene suggests that it's operating instead under the second paradox, the multiple timelines theory, so after a slog the movie starts to confuse things. Therefore, when all Hell breaks loose and the main character starts to scramble, it's not clear at all what he's doing. One assumes that he basically wants to undo everything and make it so that he never builds the time-travel machine but then the film tacks on an ending, which is absolutely confusing, if not totally contradicting.
Weston gives a good performance. I like him as an actor, and I like his relationship with Gardner who plays his sister. I understand that more is meant to be made of his relationship with Sofia Black-D'Elia who plays Jessie, the love interest for David, but not enough is there to sell it though.
One Star out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for some language and sexual content.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 46 mins.