As a tribute for the awesome destructive power of the teenage libido, the house-party-gone-apocalyptic flick Project X is pretty compelling — all gyrating female bodies and throbbing music descending into impressive, fiery chaos. Think Girls Gone Wild meets Black Hawk Down. Unfortunately, it also appears to want to tell a story, with characters and things, and on that level it pretty much completely falls apart.
One can’t weep too much for the failed storytelling here, though, because there’s scant evidence that any of the filmmakers cares all that much about it, even though the setup comes straight out of producer Todd Phillips’s (The Hangover) wheelhouse. Ordinary, geeky high-schooler Tom (Thomas Mann) has a birthday coming up and his parents are out of town. His über-horny, wannabe-alpha male bud Costa (Oliver Cooper, doing his best to channel a more dorky version of Bradley Cooper) organizes a huge party for him, with their obligatorily tubby and shy oddball pal J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown, sort of a cross between McLuvin and your typical Galifianakisian man-child) tagging along for additional comic relief. Tom is worried no one will show up; Costa just wants to make sure the party will be cool enough to change their status as losers at school. Sure enough and soon enough, the debauchery spins out of control, and somewhere between the point when a prepubescent security guard tazes an irate neighbor and the point when a little person escapes from an oven and starts punching everybody in the balls, Tom and Costa and J.B. realize their lives are about to change forever. And then things go truly nuts.
Director Nima Nourizadeh cut his teeth on music videos, and he goes for the easy points here: Although it pretends to be a found-footage flick (there’s a cameraman named Dax who is ostensibly shooting it all), most of Project X is basically a kaleidoscopic montage of hot girls dancing, DJs spinning, hot girls jumping in bounce houses (in slow motion, of course), skateboarders leaping into pools, hot girls taking their clothes off, with occasional bits of actual plot interspersed here and there, much of it involving hot girls. The narrative is clearly just window-dressing: Even when the story feels like it’s picking up steam (as when one of Costa’s overzealous security guards sneaks into a neighbor’s house), Nourizadeh can’t help but cut back to his party montages, thereby killing any actual narrative tension dead. In its frantic inability to turn away from the promises of hedonism, the film actually mimics its characters’ states of mind quite nicely.
Occasionally, it feels like the filmmakers may be going for the grand statement — something about the fleeting nature of youth, perhaps, or the fact that such sweet moments of total abandon seem to disappear even as you’re living them. But this isn’t exactly Dazed and Confused or Superbad here. Anything self-reflective is pretty much immediately quashed by the pure sexual nihilism and Dionysian wish-fulfillment of the Todd Phillips Template: The desire, perhaps even the need, to destroy the world in pursuit of the pleasures of the flesh. Which, for anyone who’s ever been a teenager, is a kind of truthbomb in its own right.