Project Power: Superhero thriller crackles with potential
James R | On 14, Aug 2020
Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback, Rodrigo Santoro
Watch Project Power online in the UK: Netflix UK
What if superpowers were real? That’s the starting point for Project Power, Netflix’s new blockbuster, which comes up with a genuinely exciting way to answer that question: with science. Taking us into the near future in New Orleans, it introduces us to a new pill that gives people super abilities for five minutes. What abilities, though, can only be found by popping one in your mouth. The result is a cross between Limitless and Chronicle, but not quite as good as either of them.
A new drug, of course, attracts dealers, and we join the fray as people on the other side of the city start to push back against that burgeoning street trade. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Frank, a cop who is prone to popping a pill or two to become bulletproof – a trick that comes in handy when chasing down a villain, but puts him in blacklisted territory with his superiors. He crosses paths with Art (Jamie Foxx), an ex-soldier type with a personal grudge to bear against what the pill’s creators have dubbed “Project Power”.
While all of this sounds quite cookie-cutter – Rodrigo Santoro and Amy Landecker don’t get a chance to bring much flavour to their thin antagonist roles – what’s surprising is how much heart the third lead brings to the mix: Dominique Fishback’s Robin, Frank’s dealer and a high school student who is trying to make ends meet, stay alive and also make it as a rapper.
Any time Fishback is on screen, Project Power sparkles with chemistry, whether it’s her pop-culture-savvy back-and-forth with Gordon-Levitt or her father-daughter bond with the deceptively soft-hearted Foxx. The trio’s sparky dynamic makes this intriguing actioner fun to watch, despite the often forgettable screenplay.
Directing duo Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost bring energy and pace to proceedings, and some nifty camera moves are echoed by a striking use of colour. Yet the set pieces – which reference everything from Wolverine to the Incredible Hulk – lack invention and surprise, with the exception of an early fiery chase and an inspired use of a chameleonic getaway. The result is an ambitious attempt at doing something different, but its flashes of brilliance only shine for a few minutes at a time. There’s a thrilling possibility to this scientific spin on superheroes but it winds up just a tad formulaic.
Project Power is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.