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Project Power

On paper, the latest Netflix thriller PROJECT POWER couldn’t possibly fail. Not only does it feature a plot that cleverly tweaks the superhero genre, but also pairs two spectacular superstars, Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, alongside the up-and-coming and immensely talented Dominique Fishback.

There is a new street drug called “power” in the city of New Orleans and it is taking its inhabitants by storm. Once ingested, the flashy pill grants its user superpowers for five full minutes. Each experience is unique to its particular user. For some, it causes them to transform into the Human Torch. Others morph into Elsa from FROZEN, while still others become invisible. And, while transforming into a superhero (or villain) certainly has its appeal, there’s always a chance that you can have a minor allergic reaction to the drug. And, by “minor allergic reaction” I mean that it can make your entire body explode.

While some take the drug for mere recreation, others use it for far more nefarious purposes. Robbing a bank is a lot easier when you are invisible, and police drawing their weapons on you is far less intimidating when you can’t be hurt. Whatever the reason may be for the user to indulge, there is no denying that dealing with the product can be a lucrative endeavor.

In an effort to assist with the medical costs for her ailing mother, Robin (Fishback) starts peddling the power. This line of work can be hazardous to one’s health, and Robin is about to learn firsthand how dangerous dealing can be when she is bailed out by officer Frank Shaver (Gordon-Levitt.) He clearly has an affinity for the girl, but also, is not above taking the drug himself. Understanding that bad guys are hard to apprehend when they have superhuman strength and agility, he willfully indulges in order to level the playing field.

As the police try to combat the rising usage of the dangerous drug, retired military man Art (Foxx) is looking for the supplier. While the New Orleans police department tries to convince its officers (including Frank) that Art is the reason that the drug is on the street, the resourceful vet has more motivation than most to track down those who are creating the devastating pharmaceutical. His daughter has been kidnapped by those in charge of the production of the potent pill, and he will stop at nothing (including a solid dose of murder and mayhem) to get her back. He teams up with the reluctant Robin to unravel the mystery, even if it means putting their lives at risk.

PROJECT POWER is unabashedly silly at times, but it embraces its own absurdity with relish. Once a user ingests the drug, their powers kick in with a matter of seconds. From there, they morph into a raging inferno or can Hulk-smash their way through walls. Despite this fact, our heroes still battle them with relish, effectively taking on a charging ball of flames or an indestructible giant. Some of these moments work, providing stylish, entertaining action sequences, while others are too ridiculous to embrace. Even in its most inconceivable moments, the performances by the three leads make it worth watching. Foxx, who continuously illustrates that the industry needs him now more than ever, effortlessly carries the film on his back, remaining a shining light of brevity, even when things get heavy. Gordon-Levitt, who has returned to the cinematic world after a brief sabbatical, works well with both Foxx and Fishback, exchanging snappy banter between the two with incredible ease. Finally, young Fishback is a strong, engaging character, devoid of the typical banality that many teens on screen exude on a regular basis. Robin is not without her flaws, but she is headstrong, intelligent, and caring. Though we may not agree with her career choices, we understand why she has made these difficult choices.

As an alternative to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, PROJECT POWER is an adequate diversion, but, as so often is the case these days, it merely illustrates how phenomenal the MCU truly is. Whereas The Avengers consistently and effortlessly blends humor, drama, and action for hours at a time, films like PROJECT POWER still have a bit of difficulty fitting all of the pieces cohesively together. Still, it’s nice to see something a little different, and an attempt at originality, even if it is not without its flaws. Thanks to Foxx, Fishback, and Gordon-Levitt, the latest Netflix venture is worth a look, though may not emerge as the most memorable of movie experiences.

(Now streaming on Netflix)

Brian Miller