The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Project Almanac

There can never be too many movies about time travel. The subject is just so much fun to contemplate, and there are so many different things that can be done with it. You can do it as comedy, adventure, horror, drama, action, romance, sci-fi. It really is an idea that's adaptable to any genre imaginable. Project Almanac marries the idea to the “found footage” technique. Depending on your opinion of that format, the decision was either inspired or pointless. Either way, it isn't the real problem here. Despite some clever conceits, the movie takes a potentially terrific premise and proceeds to let a lot of the air out of it.

We have to talk about Project Almanac in parts. The first hour, which is quite fun, documents an amazing occurrence in the life of high school senior David Raskin (Kelly & Cal's Jonny Weston). He's a science whiz who has just been accepted into MIT, although his mother cannot afford to send him there. David discovers his late scientist father's schematic for a time machine buried in the basement. He and his pals Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista) build it, while his sister captures everything on video. David's school crush, Jessie (Sofia Black-D'Elia), also gets pulled into things after they surreptitiously use her car battery as an energy source. The machine works, and the kids are able to go back in time, first a few hours, then a few weeks, and eventually months.

This section of the movie has an enjoyable sense of teen wish fulfillment to it. David and pals rectify the things in their lives that aren't going well. They pass classes, stand up to bullies, and so on. It plays fairly authentically, because they do what most teenagers (who, by definition, are usually wrapped up in their own little worlds) would really do under the circumstances.

Then there's a twenty minute stretch where they all go back a few months to attend the Lollapalooza music festival. They watch Imagine Dragons and Atlas Genius in concert, and David fumbles a romantic invitation from Jessie. Upon returning to the present, he decides to go back again and re-do their encounter. This romantic subplot feels like a shift that comes too late in the proceedings. Instead of a delightful fantasy about teens figuring out the mechanics of time travel, Project Almanac suddenly becomes a semi-dopey high school romance.

The last twenty minutes find the movie shifting gears yet again, as David discovers his solo jaunt has created a ripple effect with multiple dire consequences for everyone around him. The explanations of what happened and why are glossed over with shocking casualness. David then time-hops in a desperate, scattershot manner, hoping to put the world right again, while also holding on to Jessie's heart.

If you've seen the ads for Project Almanac, you know they play up the thriller elements, but again, that's the last twenty minutes. There's an expression in journalism: “burying the lede.” It refers to the act of delaying the most important or enticing facts until late in the story. Project Almanac buries its lede. Having David realize the time-jumping is creating negative aftereffects should have come much sooner in the movie, rather than being relegated to the very end. The film then has to rush confusingly through both the details of how/why time is being changed, and the reasoning behind David's successive attempts to restore order.

There was a simple fix to this. The romantic subplot should have been trimmed, simplified, or moved closer to the beginning so that more time could be dedicated to the most dramatic parts of the story. Lollapalooza ends up being the point at which Project Almanac takes a wrong turn that it never quite recovers from. Instead of becoming increasingly intense, the film slowly starts to deflate.

The actors are good, and there are enough cool ideas to make Project Almanac painless to watch. But you can't help feeling that, as a whole, it's a missed opportunity. Time travel has so many potentially dazzling, mind-bending implications. No one cares whether a guy gets a girlfriend or not when the world is crumbling down around him.

( 1/2 out of four)

Project Almanac is rated PG-13 for some language and sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.

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