Movie review: ‘Project Almanac’
Directed by Dean Israelite
Starring Jonny Weston, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, Virginia Gardner
Rated PG-13, Sci-Fi, 106 minutes
In “Project Almanac” brainy high school senior David (Jonny Weston) is accepted to MIT but fails to receive a sufficient scholarship to pay the school’s tuition. To prevent his mother from selling their house to make up the shortfall David searches through their attic in hopes of locating documentation of an unfinished experiment by his deceased, genius fathe. David IS intent upon using the information to receive further support from MIT’s financial committee.
The search turns up a VHS tape showing present-day David attending his own seventh birthday party, which is, coincidentally, the last time David saw his father alive.
David enlists the help of his sister Christina (Virginia Gardner), who serves as his videographer, and David’s two best friends, Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista), to help him understand the confusing timelines. After David and company discover his father’s incomplete temporal relocation device, aka time machine, Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia), the pretty girl David likes, earns her spot in the group adventure by contributing her electric car’s battery as their power source.
The first half of the film works particularly well because the script captures the sarcastic, insecure banter of teens. Action that depicts the group attempting to make their machine work marries well with dialog that credibly depicts their desires and concerns. Regarding the group’s efforts to build a working time machine, the film doesn’t talk down to its audience, prompting us to pay close attention.
Instead of examining the ethics of using the time machine to ace a test or enrich themselves, the film asks whether the potential for negative effects is sufficient reason to stop all time travel. For example, the group is mortified when, following one of their jumps, the current news shows a plane crash they hadn’t seen previously. I was surprised David didn’t use the multiverse theory (steadily gaining traction among theoretical physicists as quantum mechanics has evolved) to debate the point.
Soon after proving their time machine is viable, the group make several rules, including: Each jump must be made by the entire group and each jump must be filmed so it can be reviewed should anything go wrong. Eventually, in an effort to secure his budding romance with Jessie, David secretly jumps by himself, repeating it each time the jump causes a new problem.
The story’s approach to time travel and other mysteries from a teen perspective provides escapist fun but begins to feel labored when the script starts pounding morality lessons with a force that requires the assumption of a responsible adult’s mindset. Sometimes it’s better to let a duck be just a duck.
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