Project X is the story of one night in the life of three high-school boys who seize the opportunity of a free house to throw a party. It isn’t just any party though, it’s a mass gathering of more than 1500 people that ends with multiple helicopters overhead, an invasion by the SWAT team and several burning houses.
It is easy to see many links between Project X and The Hangover, having both been produced by Todd Phillips. They map a night of boyish, outlandish fun that escalates in a humorous and absurd manner. For example, in The Hangover much of the plot is focused around their robbery of Mike Tyson’s tiger, which is transformed in Project X into the stealing of a gnome that results in a drug dealer’s pyrotechnic meltdown. The character types of Project X seem to have been lifted directly out of The Hangover: there is a mild-mannered character (Thomas and Doug) who is egged on by a boyish friend (Costa and Phil). There is also the stereotypical strange, not-so-good-looking friend who forms the butt of most of the film’s jokes (JB and Alan). The main change in characterisation in Project X is that the authoritarian figure has morphed from girlfriends/wives into parents. This perhaps renders it more palatable for female viewers as everyone can associate with parental anger. In each film the final finger-up to authority comes in the destruction of a nice car owned by said authority figure. The structure of The Hangover is reversed in Project X as the former tries to piece together what happened the night before while the latter places focus on the night as it plays out. This gives it a more immediate focus and you really feel like you are involved in the party. Ultimately both films show a group of boys who just want to have fun without worrying about the consequences and allow the audience to indulge in this idea of one fantasy night to trump all other nights.
Most likely by now you’re probably thinking that this film isn’t worth seeing in the cinema if at all as you’ve seen it all before in The Hangover and its sequel. While the plot is fairly shallow and there are multiple moments of gratuitous female nudity and vulgar language, director Nima Nourizadeh’s combines found-footage filming techniques with genuinely funny dialogue to raise this film above the standard level of boyish comedies such as The Hangover. Nourizadeh works really hard to involve the audience in the spectacle of this film, from employing a complete cast of no-names to shooting it from the perspective of video cameras held by party-goers. Moreover, there is no underlying score in the film, but the soundtrack is only played in context with the action. This ultimately builds up to the fore-grounded, atmospheric music in the scenes at the party. The varied soundtrack ensures that as many audience members are involved as possible, ranging from house to hip hop to indie and pop. Nourizadeh acknowledges his clever use of music halfway through the film when he underscores the boys taking ecstasy with Boyz II Men. This is one of many metatextual episodes in the film where Nourizadeh makes the audience aware of the fact that they feel involved in this fictional party. It is because of his directorial skill that the escalation of the party into chaos involves the audience so effectively that they feel relieved when the black out finally occurs. The dizzying speed of the cut of the montage and consequent metamorphosis of the characters into a mass of bodies moving rhythmically to the loud heavy metal music prevents any audience member from not feeling like they’re there.
It is for this reason that I can almost forgive the news reports tacked onto the end of the film which describe it as ‘anarchy’ and that Thomas was charged with inciting hatred and starting a riot. The subject matter is nonetheless slightly absurd and shallow but Project X refreshingly doesn’t take itself seriously. The makers do no seem to believe that this was a threatening riot against suburbia as they distance this conclusion from the audience in filming it in a different way. Much of the comedy in Project X comes from its self-conscious irony that works in tandem with the ‘found-footage’ filming to show the audience that films such as these aren’t meant to be taken seriously. The characters are named after the actors that play them and there are continual references made to Dax, the ominous, voyeuristic cameraman. The success of the comedy of this film can be measured by the continual laughter from the audience and that at one point someone even applauded. Project X doesn’t take itself seriously, but it is full of self-referential irony which makes it slightly easier for more serious cinema-goers to stomach while retaining a light-hearted feel. This is a refreshing take on the ‘boy’s night out’ comedy genre but ultimately I would still only recommend going to see it if those films appeal to you.