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Project Power

A long-winded thrill ride from Netflix

Dwight Brown NNPA News Wire Film Critic | 8/20/2020, midnight
Move over Molly. You’ve got competition! Folks in New Orleans are downing potent..

Move over Molly. You’ve got competition! Folks in New Orleans are downing potent capsules dubbed Power that can give them superpowers. What’s the catch? The energy rush only lasts for minutes and it’s very unpredictable.

Who in the world could think up such a novel premise? Point your finger at screenwriter Mattson Tomlin (upcoming The Batman). Hale or hate him for giving a fresh twist to the conventional action/crime/sci-fi genre. He’s the one who found a way to wrap a plotline around a 13-year-old drug dealer and add in a socially conscious subplot about citizens being treated like lab rats. After you’ve called Child Protective Services, sit down and indulge. Click on your Netflix account, scroll down the menu, then grab some Cheetos and a beer because for 111 minutes you’re going on a long-winded thrill ride.

Power pills are pretty tempting. Some who swallow the glowing buds gain super strength, others become fireballs and some even become invisible. Should they just say “No” to the drug? That’s not the way the drug czar Biggie (Rodrigo Santoro, “Westworld”) sees it. He’s the leader who sends his crew out to do business. Something like a gangbanger telling his dealers to fan out and  not come back without some Benjamins.

Robin (Dominique Fishback, “The Hate U Give”), a tween, is desperate for money for her mom Irene (Andrene Ward-Hammond, “Just Mercy”) and willing to sell the stuff to whomever she can. Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “The Dark Knight Rises”), a cop, is pissed the new drug is consuming NOLA. And then there’s Art (Jamie Foxx, “Ray”), an ex-soldier, who is deep in the mix, hunting down the ringleader and government operatives for his own reasons. 

Filmmakers Ariel “Rel” Schulman and Henry Joost were co-directors on the documentary “Catfish” (which coined the social media term “catfish”) and the horror feature film “Paranormal Activity 3.” Some would say their style is a bit modern and quirky. And that’s precisely what you need to turn a well-worn genre film on its head. In some ways they succeed. In some ways they don’t.

Though designed to be off the beaten path, once the premise is established, the storyline starts and the initial characters are exposed, the film becomes fairly ho hum. That is until Gordon-Levitt shows up in the guise of Frank, a flatfoot who plays by his own rules. How out there is he? Well, quiet as it’s kept, he’s been known to dabble in the forbidden drug himself. There is something very street and hip about that actor that has Frank interacting with Robin, Irene and Art and the bad guys in a very cool, lucid way. Like Justin Timberlake hanging with Timbaland or Jay-Z. He kicks the movie into another gear.

With a plot that is denser than it needs to be, more characters than necessary, and enough backstories to fill an Al-Anon meeting, it’s no wonder the pacing drags. Even with the imperfections, Project Power is easy to sit through. Once you sit down to watch it, you will likely remain glued to your seat until that last pill is popped.