Your enjoyment of “Project Almanac” hinges on two key questions:
1. How many time-travel movies have you seen? If you haven’t seen many, you’ll be fine. If you’re well-trod in the area, “Project Almanac” will feel routine.
2. Are you sensitive to motion sickness? If you’ve become accustomed to the herky-jerky style of the modern “found footage” genre, again, you’ll be fine. But if the wobbles and twists and turns of handheld camera make you nauseated, “Project Almanac” will send you rushing for the exits inside of five minutes.
If you can get by these hurdles, “Project Almanac” is a harmless piece of teen-aimed science fiction from your friends at MTV Films.
Directed by Dean Israelite, “Project Almanac” is built around the exploits of five teenagers. David (Jonny Weston) is their leader, a bright young high school senior who has been accepted to MIT but didn’t qualify for a scholarship.
His sister Christina (Virginia Gardner) is his loyal camerawoman, which means we only hear her voice most of the time.
Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia) is David’s would-be girlfriend, a knockout who is unattainable to David until about 10 minutes into the movie, when she joins the gang and eventually reveals a convenient longtime crush on our protagonist.
David’s two best friends fill out the group, but their characters are so thin and obligatory that the audience is never even sure of their names.
Desperate to secure funding to MIT, David begins digging around his house in the hopes that one of the mysterious science projects his deceased father left behind might provide assistance. If not, his mother (Amy Landecker) has already decided to sell the family’s house to pay for his tuition. Luckily for David, his father left the blueprints to a working time machine in the basement.
From here, things work out the way you’d expect. The team of apparent physics and engineering geniuses gets the time machine working, and before long, they are winning the lottery, buying Maseratis and living it up backstage at Lollapalooza.
Everything is wonderful until it isn’t anymore. Rules are broken. Mistakes are made. Things go bad, and our hero has to risk the affections of his brand-new girlfriend to make things right.
There’s nothing wrong with this, but there’s nothing particularly new about it, either. The dialogue is passable, the acting is fine and the camerawork is an acquired taste.
Sadly, Israelite missed an obvious opportunity to tie the death of David’s father into the plot. He died mysteriously shortly after David’s seventh birthday party, but no connection between his death and his work on the time machine is ever explored.
One of the stranger aspects of “Project Almanac” is the way it spends long stretches of time showing the group working on the time machine without giving the audience any idea how the thing actually works. By the time it’s up and running, David is literally controlling the machine with an iPhone app. There are also lots of car batteries and canisters of hydrogen, but we never really know why.
Maybe every time-travel movie can’t use a souped-up DeLorean, but “Project Almanac” may leave you wanting to pull out your old copy of “Back to the Future” instead.
“Project Almanac” is rated PG-13 for some violence, profanity (including a single use of the F-word) and some sexual content (mostly in the form of revealing outfits).
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.