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The Power Pill Occasionally Works

During a time of great uncertainty, where movie theaters are closed and high-profile blockbusters are being pushed back (We want Tenet!), moviegoers have been forced to venture elsewhere to find new content. The result has tended to be whatever new direct-to-streaming release has hit the various platforms. While most content creators have struggled to keep up during this pandemic, Netflix has risen to the occasion. Over the first half of 2020, we have seen Netflix successfully release several high-profile projects ranging in genre from action flicks (Extraction), to war movies (Da 5 Bloods), to even silly comedies (Eurovision Song Contest). While not all of these films worked, they all possessed star power that attracted viewers. Project Power works in the same vein as these films, functioning as a science-fiction crime drama led by bankable stars. It possesses an interesting idea that carries potential, yet is undone at times by poor dialogue, stale performances, and messy action sequences culminating in a viewing experience that is simply solid.

The story is set in a fictional New Orleans overwhelmed by a new drug nicknamed “Power” that instills its user with a random superpower for five minutes when consumed. The film follows Art (Jamie Foxx), an ex-soldier who has unfinished business to settle with the creators of this drug. Over the course of his journey he crosses paths with Robin (Dominique Fishback), a teenage dealer trying to make ends meet for her mother and Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a local cop fighting to keep his streets clean.

The biggest positive that Project Power has to offer is its premise, which not only offers a fresh take on the superhuman story in the form of a gritty R-rated crime drama, but also functions as a Trojan Horse to discuss contemporary social issues such as racial inequality and the monitoring of law enforcement. While overt in the delivery of these messages, the point of the message is important nonetheless. The creative minds behind this film clearly had something to say, although the manner feels incomplete and likely would have benefitted from further refining.

Unfortunately, the acting is unable to pick up much of the slack. Joseph Gordon-Levitt shines the brightest as he commits fully to fleshing out what would in lesser hands have been a stock supporting character. Gordon-Levitt brings a rugged look and demeanor that, along with an accent, helps fully encompass this figure. Then there is Jamie Foxx, who delivers a stale leading man performance, not bringing much to the central protagonist beyond his own natural charisma. Fishback is slightly better, as she is given more backstory to work with which helps her flesh out the character. Aside from these three, the rest of the supporting cast does not offer anything beyond that of generic antagonists.

Technically speaking, the movie is able to provide cool visuals, along with one or two slick action set pieces, but unfortunately most of the other fight scenes are poorly choreographed with choppy editing. The screenplay doesn’t provide much help either, as most of the dialogue feels stilted and is unable to elevate the scenes in any meaningful way.

Overall, Project Power is a flawed, underdeveloped idea, yet one that possessed serious promise. The intriguing concept of this urban crime drama succeeds in commenting on the state of current events that combined with cool visuals and a fun Joseph Gordon-Levitt performance still manage to create an entertaining story. I give it 2.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to anyone seeking out a unique spin on the superpowers story, or who is simply craving something new in this theater-less time.

-Matt Chouinard


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