Director: Dean Israelite
Starring: Jonny Weston, Sofia Black D’Elia, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista
UK Release Date: 16th January 2015
If you ask people why they buy a lottery ticket, many reply that it’s not because they have any delusions that they’re going to win, but instead they just enjoy the rampant daydreaming and wild speculation that comes with every Lucky Dip purchase. Will they move to a Tuscan villa with a vineyard, or a Vegas penthouse with strippers? Is a V10 Ferrari big enough to wrap around a tree? Are monkey butlers available for purchase in the UK? This kind of undeniably fun “imagination fuel” is what Project Almanac does best. Even if all other aspects of the film leave you cold (which would be fair and understandable), the question of how a time-machine would have helped during high school will definitely linger in your mind.
Dean Israelite’s directorial debut tells the story of David, a 17 year old inventor, whose dreams of attending a prestigious college are dashed by financial troubles. After finding a videotape that appears to show a present day David at his own 7th birthday party, he and his friends discover the blueprints for a “temporal relocation device” in his late father’s workshop and manage to build a working prototype. As the group uses the time machine to improve their lives, David’s obsession with changing the past begins to have disastrous effects on the present.
This premise is all well and good, but rather than swiftly breezing through the set-up and cutting to the chase, Project Almanac takes a frustratingly long time to really get going. A actual time machine would be amazing, if only to skip through the first 30 minutes of “these car batteries haven’t worked, I guess we better go back to Home Depot and buy more, don’t forget to bring the camera for some reason”. Christina, David’s sister, does most of the filming in this “found footage” presentation, although her reasoning for capturing everything on video becomes increasingly farfetched. As a side note, what camera has such incredible optical zoom and directional sound capabilities that she’s able to film a quiet conversation with perfect video and audio clarity, from 20 metres away, in the middle of a music festival?
Once the time machine is complete, the film begins to pick up the pace slightly as the teenage time-travellers do everything you’d expect of them. Namely: cheating on tests, rigging the lottery, buying sports cars, and humiliating bullies. In a segment that feels like an advert for Imagine Dragons and the festival itself, they decide to go to Lollapalooza, and Project Almanac slows down yet again. The product placement is obscene throughout, from slow-mo tracking shots of Red Bull cans, through to the Xbox that forms the processor of the time machine itself. A certain handheld video brand is referenced so frequently, it often feels like there’s an imaginary 6th member of the time-travel gang whose name is “Gary GoPro”.
While it’s no groundbreaking epic, the film makes plenty of references to time-travel staples (“Let’s Groundhog Day this bitch”), indicating a degree of self-awareness in a piece that never takes itself too seriously. Despite plot holes, unequal pacing and questionable camera-work, Project Almanac is likely to be a success with its teenage demographic, and serves an escapist purpose with a marginal hint of originality. Another February film that you can miss at the cinema, but is probably worth catching when you’ve got a hungover afternoon to spare and it’s available on-demand.
2 / 5 stars
Written by James Excell