"Project Power" Review: Netflix thriller fun but forgettable



The concept of Project Power sounds like an interesting one. A narcotic on the street has the power to infuse its user with a superhuman ability. Unlike the drug used in the 2011 thriller Limitless though, this one doesn’t enable a person to maximize their brain power. It gives each user a unique ability but the user doesn’t know what super power they'll unleash until they inject the pill.

The pill could also be deadly to the user though as some users die immediately after consuming them. This set-up raises some interesting questions. Would members of the public be so intrigued by this drug that they take it knowing the potential risk (immediate death) but unsure of the potential rewards?

The answer for police officer Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is an obvious one. Faced with overpowering criminals on the New Orleans streets, Frank takes the drug to combat the thugs on the streets. His dealer is a  een named Robin (Dominique Fishback) who struggles to take care of her family. Frank ultimately wants the drugs off the streets but believes that he needs to use them to take the streets back from Art (Jamie Foxx), the man that Frank believes is behind the drug's distribution.

Early on, the script by Mattson Tomlin introduces these three disparate characters. There’s Frank, the flawed but hopeful cop who believes that the only way to face off against super-powered criminals is to become a super-powered police officer. There’s Robin, the street-smart teen who has a keen ability to craft a rap song from just an idea. Then, there’s the charismatic Art, the enigmatic character whose back story isn’t as simple as it sounds.

In many ways, the feature feels like a throwback to the action movies of the 1990s. The story seems like a scramble of different ideas and characters mushed together but it’s superficially entertaining. It’s hard not to enjoy some elements of the story even though some much of it seems jumbled together to keep the narrative together.

Some of these aspects are undeniably over-the-top. From an overdramatic opening sequence introducing the drug to the audience to a face-off between Robin and her teacher to a scene featuring Art battling against a man who’s literally on fire, there’s a melodramatic nature that courses through this film’s veins. To go along with the drug at the center of the film, everything seems to be amped up here.

Although much of the film is super serious and sometimes even silly, Joseph Gordon-Levitt manages to make the most of his character. While Robin and Art sometimes feel like stock characters, the character of Frank feels like a unique fit here. Frank wants to do the right thing but in a time and place where doing the right thing means going up against heightened versions of criminals, Frank realizes that he needs his own super power to survive. Frank is also a smooth-talking cop. Even when he’s caught up in a tumultuous situation, Frank manages to argue and charm his way out of here as he does here in a memorable scene featuring Robin’s mother.

The concept of Project Power could’ve set up something far more unique than what’s offered here. The prospect of a pill that could fuel users with superpowers should be rife with creative possibilities but the writers here seem limited to be more traditional powers. For instance, one character becomes bulletproof. Another one has the power of invisibility. Another one becomes a human torch.

Some of the scenes featuring these abilities are exciting enough but like the film itself, these cliched powers leave the viewer wanting a little bit more. 

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