Review: ‘Project Almanac’: A project that should have never been turned in

“Project Almanac,” a tired, overdone time-traveling story revolving around the escapades of five teenagers and their irresponsible use of a finicky time machine, seems more like a high schooler’s summer film project rather than a Michael Bay production with a multi-million dollar budget.

Hardly any room is left for actually developing the characters’ personalities or potentially relatable emotions, as a large part of the plot is mainly driven by a superficial love story based on little more than physical attraction. Following 105 grueling minutes of mind-numbing tedium, the final moments of the film come off as a hail-mary attempt to blow the audiences’ minds, but goes so far beyond any sensible explanation to leave the audience feeling uncomfortably embarrassed rather than enlightened by the film.

The movie opens with high school senior David Raskin (Jonny Weston) making a video essay for admission to MIT with the help of his buddies Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista). While David is clearly intelligent and scientifically-adept, he painfully lacks social fluency and, with zero originality on behalf of screenwriters Jason Pagan and Andrew Stark, consistently flounders in his efforts to win the heart of his dream girl, Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia).

When David, his two friends, and his sister/camerawoman Christina (Virginia Gardner) stumble across their deceased father’s plans for a “temporal relocation prototype” in his basement workspace, they work together to piece the contraption together, accidentally involving David’s love interest Jessie when they try to use her car battery as fuel for the machine.

After successfully “jumping” back in time, the fivesome make a pact to keep their feats a secret and to never jump alone, blatantly foreshadowing an impending disaster that occurs when a certain leader of the group gets a little too wrapped up in the fantasy of perfecting each and every moment with Jessie.

Like the very two-dimensional teenagers they are, the friends use their time machine to ace tests, take revenge on bullies, win the lottery, buy a Maserati, and bring food trucks onto the school’s campus, which somehow instantly transforms them into heroes of the student body.

It is difficult to discern the climax of the action, as it all seems to blur together after they decide to use one of humanity’s most desired inventions to go watch the Imagine Dragons perform at the Lollapalooza music festival. These “jumps” back in time create an ambiguous rippling effect that manages to cause the high school basketball team to lose the big game, a plane crash in Europe, and dream-girl Jessie to turn away from downward-spiralling David.

Ultimately, David makes the painstaking decision to time travel back to the day before he discovered his father’s blueprints, heroically sacrificing his relationship with Jessie in order to save the world as we know it.

The acting itself is a disappointment, especially after Weston’s much more impressive performance starring in the 2012 surf flick “Chasing Mavericks.” With such widespread artificiality surrounding the actors, it is extremely difficult to make any emotional connection with the characters, and by the end of the movie, I simply did not care about their potential success or failure.

Inducing a mild headache and slight nausea, the film’s found-footage cinematography loses all of its cool factor after the third scene. While some movies, such as J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8,” have effectively and cohesively integrated this raw style with more traditional cinematography, “Almanac’s” sporadic footage seems like an attempt to distract the audience from the cliche and insultingly predictable storyline.

Aside from offering a cheap thrill to those with impeccably low standards, there is really nothing redeemable about this movie. Save yourself the Advil I had to take on the ride home from the theater and do not go see this film.

Grade: D
Rating: PG-13
Length: 106 minutes
Genre: Fantasy/Thriller
Director: Dean Israelite
Starring: Jonny Weston, Sofia Black-D’Elia