- Movie Rating -

Project Almanac (2015)

| February 3, 2015

Project Almanac is a nice surprise. Here in the post-Holiday January/February doldrums of weak action movies and unfunny comedies comes a fun little science fiction movie that lays out a clever scenario and then follows through on rational terms. It’s the kind of movie that sneaks up on you, just when you think you know how it will go, it takes a right turn and becomes something else. Yes, it’s full of plotholes – time travel movies inevitably are – but it’s a joy to watch this story play out.

Why so special? Because this is the rare movie these days that actually bothers to tell a story from beginning to end, unlike most movies of this kind that set up a clever idea and then go on automatic pilot in the third act. As the movie was wrapping up, I’ll admit, I had to guess where it was going.

The story involves an awkward kid named David Raskin (Jonny Weston), who is just about to graduate high school and is trying to secure a scholarship to MIT. He’s a bit of a scientific whiz kid, but he’s only human. His first experiment with a finger-controlled drone ends in disaster. Added to that insult, he gets accepted but not on scholarship. In a huff, he and his sister Christina (Virginia Gardner) go digging around in the attic looking for some potential lost scientific experimental burst of genius left over by his late father who had worked on secret projects for the government. Instead, he finds an old video camera which contains a tape of his (David’s) 7th birthday party. He’s shocked when he briefly catches a quick glimpse of his current self on the ten year-old tape.

Spoilers ahead, so be warned. While doing some more digging, David and his friends find an old time travel experiment buried under the floorboards in the basement. Putting their collective scientific know-how together, David and his friends Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista) discover that the machine is the real deal. After several failed tries, they find that they can move back and forth for a few minutes, then develop a way to move back a whole day. Further experiments reveal the ability to cross back whole weeks, months and even years.

What do they do with this newfound technology? At first they consider executing Hitler until they realize that no one in their group speaks German. So, they instead do what any normal teenager would do in this situation: Go back in time and win the lottery, buy an expensive car, ace a chemistry test, get revenge on bullies, and spend a few days at the recently concluded Lalapalooza.

It’s all fun and games until a series of drastic paradoxes begins. Their happy jaunt to Lalapalooza opens the flood gates of paradoxes on top of paradoxes that results in disaster after disaster. The second act of the movie is a fun crazy race to try and patch up the holes they’ve knocked in time and undo the mistake they’ve made which keep opening up more holes and creating more problems.

Yeah, the movie has holes in it, but it remains entertaining none-the-less. A movie like this can get really tiring really fast, but this script by Jason Harry Pagan and Andrew Deutschman is smart enough to keep the story inventive. The movie doesn’t go on automatic pilot or go for a cheap ending. As I said before, the movie has a beginning, middle, and end so that we follow it every step of the way. And it’s fun journey. There’s even an emotional level, as David finds his morality tested as he keeps messing with the timeline to keep from disturbing his first meeting with his new girlfriend.

Now for the bad news. There was no reason whatsoever to make this a found footage movie. All through the film, David’s sister lugs around a video camera in which she’s not only filming the experiments but also the moments of down-time. It’s distracting. The movie could have worked just as well without it. I was also troubled by the film’s ending, a scene tacked onto the end that sort of left me scratching my head. There’s a scene in the basement a minute earlier that would have been the perfect place to end it. Those objections aside, this is a fun movie, better than I expected. It’s smartly written, well made, and not at all what I expected.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.