In a crazy year that has been essentially devoid of big action-packed tentpole movies, it’s kinda nice to see something like “Project Power” come along. This stylish Netflix banger from the directing duo of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman has the look and feel of a big screen summer blockbuster. And it has two catchy names as top draws – Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Both have fun bringing their signature charisma while successfully jumping a few narrative hurdles along the way.
“Project Power” is written by Mattson Tomlin who is also busy co-writing Matt Reeves’ new Batman film. It took winning a bidding war with several big studios for Netflix to snag the rights to Tomlin’s script. It’s a dark-sided superhero tale of sorts, not without moments of levity, and with some social commentary sprinkled in for good measure. The concept is undeniably silly on the surface, but Tomlin does some interesting things with it and says some meaningful things along the way.
A new drug is introduced onto the streets of New Orleans by Teleos – a shady defense contractor secretly operating with government sanction. Once taken the pill triggers a single unique superpower that lies dormant in every person. But they only have it for five minutes. And while many powers are good, some can be instantly fatal to the user. As a slimy broker tells a potential investor during a sales pitch, “Results may vary“.
Needing a test run before mass production, Teleos hires a handful of local pushers to get their drug into the bloodstream of urban New Orleans. Among them is a well-meaning teen named Robin (Dominique Fishback), an aspiring rapper who sells the power pill as a means of taking care of her sick mother. One of her buyers is a New Orleans police detective named Frank (Gordon-Levitt). He secretly uses the pill as a way of combating the recent wave of super-powered crime across the city.
Enter Art (Foxx), an ex-Army Ranger who rolls into town intent on tracking down the supplier of the new drug. His trail leads to Robin who he kidnaps and forces to help him.￼ But the two form an unexpected bond after Art reveals to her his intensely personal reasons for being there. Meanwhile the police have been informed that Art is a powerful drug dealer who is setting up shop in the city. Frank is sent to apprehend him while Art continues his hunt for Teleos.
As you can expect, paths cross, truths are revealed, and alliances are formed. There’s also plenty of action, much of it easily exceeding the gore limit of the normal superhero movie. ￼￼In one scene alone a thug is impaled through the neck with an ice sculpture. Another has his hand shot off. And one goon simply explodes after popping a power pill (I warned you about those side effects). And that’s not counting what is ‘chillingly’ going on in the background of the scene (I’ll leave it for you to discover). There are a couple of instances where they shaky cam and frantic editing are too much. But for the most part DP Michael Simmonds puts together some thrilling compositions and some of his camera tricks really pay off.
Joost and Schulman move from scene to scene with a propulsive energy, but they still make room for their characters to develop. There isn’t a lot of time wasted on backstory, most of which comes through haunting flashbacks inside of Art’s head. Instead it’s the interactions between the characters that inform us the most. To be clear, this isn’t a movie of complex relationships or deep dives in psychology. Still, the three main characters are well-served by Tomlin’s script and the good all-around performances from Foxx, Gordon-Levitt, and Fishback.
And while “Project Power” is far from a deep contemplative think piece, it does place itself in a setting rich with issues to speak on. Inner-city drug use, poverty, corruption, government neglect – its all addressed in some form or another. And perhaps more than anything, the movie explores the notion of the haves and the have-nots specifically in the area of power. As Art succinctly puts it, “In the real world power goes to where it always goes – to the people who already have it.”
“Project Power” comes along during a time when we all could use a little escapism. It ends up being a fun, high-energy offering of big screen caliber action, timely dashes of humor, and a lively chemistry between its three stars. I also admire it for being a superhero(ish) movie that doesn’t adhere to any genre formula nor does it waste our time with yet another origin story. The film doesn’t quite cover all of its story angles, but it’s still solid ‘kick back and enjoy’ entertainment and a nice getaway for those looking for one. “Project Power” premieres today on Netflix.