When it comes to Netflix’s big budget tentpoles that are designed to rack in streams and dollars, the most any of them have done is be mildly entertaining. So far, few of Netflix’s major releases that aren’t Oscar contenders have been truly worthy of praise, and unfortunately Project Power continues that trend. It succeeds at being an average sci-fi thriller with an intriguing premise, but it doesn’t offer anything more of substance than that. Project Power has the star-power of Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to propel it forward, and while both are great, their efforts are wasted on a mediocre film with virtually nonexistent villains and questionable character motives. It is a watchable Netflix movie if you are able to turn your brain off and can ignore a scene of unnecessarily disturbing and gratuitous violence, but it never rises above “watchable” to become something truly worthy of viewers’ attention.
The bare-bones premise of Project Power is interesting from the start: what if a pill existed that could make you have a random superpower for five minutes? The superpowers range from becoming bulletproof to lighting on fire depending on the person who takes the pill, although some people simply blow up when they take one. The film takes place in New Orleans and follows three people who are all involved in the dealing of these pills across the city: a man whose daughter has been kidnapped by the manufacturers of the drug (Jamie Foxx), a cop who wants to take out the criminals spreading this drug around while also taking some himself on the job (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and a girl who is dealing these pills and working with Gordon-Levitt’s character to make money for her diabetic mother (Dominique Fishback). These three slowly come together to stop the manufacturing of this drug and hopefully save Foxx’s daughter.
Project Power is interesting for me because the positives I have about it far outweigh the negatives, yet I still think this is a mess of a film. The most enjoyment I had while watching it was during the first half, where the concept was still intriguing and the excitement had not worn out yet. From the very beginning, all three main actors prove to be more than competent enough to carry this movie. Anybody who has seen Foxx act in anything knows he is a powerhouse of a performer, and he doesn’t let up here. He has fantastic screen presence and sells even the more ridiculous scenes the script throws at him. Gordon-Levitt is also great despite his character not being too interesting. He plays an idealistic cop, and while his acting makes him a likeable presence, he never adds much to the story. Unfortunately, the same goes for Fishback’s character. She plays it excellently, but her character doesn’t matter in the long run of this narrative, so it is never too compelling.
At the end of the day, Foxx’s character is the only one who pushes the story along and motivates the events of this movie. But since his character makes some morally questionable decisions along the way, he is hard to cheer for in the second half. I was invested in Project Power at first, and Foxx seemed to be on a noble and heartfelt mission to find his kidnapped daughter. The action scenes are well-directed and the cinematography is fantastic as well, but as the movie continues and the body count further increases, my interest in Foxx’s quest disappeared. By the very end of the movie, I could have cared less about the kidnapped daughter and I failed to understand what exactly is being accomplished by the heroes. They never take down the whole operation; they just kill everyone and leave. This entire movie revolves around this daughter, and she isn’t interesting enough for the entire movie to ride on it.
Looking back on it, one scene in Project Power ruined the entire movie for me. It involves a woman who enters a controlled room to demonstrate the powers she has. Once she swallows the pill, the temperature of this glass room is adjusted to show how she can withstand the coldest and the hottest of temperatures. However, Jamie Foxx walks in and starts murdering everyone who is regulating this experiment. Basically, we see this woman excruciatingly freeze to death for roughly three minutes after her five minutes on the pill runs out, and it’s one of the most disgusting and hard-to-watch sequences in recent memory. Not only did this scene make me care less about the story (if the protagonist is killing and torturing dozens of innocent people then why the hell should I care about his daughter?), but it stuck in my mind so much that I couldn’t enjoy the movie after that. This scene is depraved and heartless, and its inclusion in this movie is a major reason why Project Power doesn’t hit the mark.
The protagonists commit far worse atrocities than the villains, who are hardly in the movie. There really isn’t a solid villain here, which means the characters have nothing to work towards and nobody to go against. They are just wandering around and tracking down nothing for this whole movie whilst causing unnecessary collateral damage. This film feels like a waste in the end because nothing is really accomplished; no villain who could have killed thousands is defeated, just some drug pushers that don’t even seem to be at the top of the operation.
After the scene I mentioned above, I just couldn’t appreciate Project Power. The characterization and writing combined with the overall tone made the scene so horrendous that it brought the entire narrative’s flaws to the surface. The last half never does anything interesting to wrap up the movie and never addresses or justifies the violence that just occurred, so it feels like a waste of time even though entertaining scenes do exist. The talent in front of and behind the camera is great and there is clear skill here, so it’s a shame that the script and occasional direction missteps waste the talent. It is good to see Foxx and Gordon-Levitt again, but I’d much rather see either of their past movies than this. Project Power has a fantastic concept, but the execution makes this a very skippable Netflix movie that people won’t likely remember in two weeks.
I give Project Power a C.