- Movie Rating -

Project X (1987)

| April 17, 1987

I have a suspicious streak for these things.  Over the years I like to think that I’ve built up a sixth sense about when something in a movie seems inevitable, and it perked up very early in Project X.  It happened about the moment that I realized that Helen Hunt was playing a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin was training a cute little chimpanzee named Virgil to use sign language.  Their bond was touching, lovely, funny and sweet.  I immediately knew that something wasn’t right.

Sure enough, Virgil’s research project loses money and he is shipped away to an Air Force base down in Florida where his he will be put to use training on a flight simulator.  Okay sure, but that seemed a little too benign a purpose for a chimp to be claimed by the military.  My spidey-senses were still tingling.

Enter Matthew Broderick playing The Most Naïve Air Force Pilot in the World.  He’s a kid in his 20s but his voice still bodes that gee-whiz spirit that was probably present when he was about 13.  He’s in for a long, hard journey.  Naturally he develops a bond with Virgil and naturally he understands that Virgil can do sign language, and naturally he discovers the nefarious plot by the military to expose chimps to lethal radiation to see how it might effect human pilots in a nuclear assault.  Ah HA!  I knew this wasn’t on the level!

What is impressive about this is that before it turns into a caper plot design to save the chimps from death, Broderick has a reason for wanting to rescue the animals beyond just a Save the Chimps mentality.  The flaw in the plan, as he points out, is that the chimps would not know that they were being exposed to the radiation, but a human pilot would.  It wouldn’t alter their personality at all.  That is a step that I didn’t expect.  What I did expect is what happens for the rest of the movie.

The caper plot involving Broderick and Hunt trying to get the chimps to freedom is not all that surprising.  I would have been happy with just an intellectual battle over whether or not the experiment is worth the lives of these animals.  But what I sensed was a movie aimed at kids, maybe on the level of The Manhattan Project that movie about the bright kid who built an atomic bomb for his High School science fair.  And yes, it has a lot of that kind of spirit.  Teenagers would eat it up, but adults would find it hokey and obvious.  I’m somewhere in the middle – I was genuinely surprised by the movie despite the fact that I could almost always see where it was going.  Applying logic to this story is not a good idea.  It’s an entertaining movie with a social message.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1987) View IMDB Filed in: Action, Drama