Project Power (2020)
Directed by: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Premise: A new drug is bought and sold on the streets of New Orleans. The pill gives the user superpowers with results varying from one person to another. A low level dealer (Dominique Fishback) gets caught up in one man’s (Jamie Foxx) search for the drug’s manufacturer.
What Works: Project Power delivers entertaining sci-fi action while also telling a smart and even slyly subversive story. The picture takes place in New Orleans where an impoverished African American woman, played by Dominique Fishback, deals drugs to keep her family financially afloat. She gets ensnared in a conspiracy involving a new strand of pills that give its users temporary superpowers. The ethnicity of the protagonist is not a coincidence. Project Power is about race and the relationship between poor, predominantly black communities and the drug trade. The filmmakers are never didactic about this but the political point isn’t concealed either and the story dramatizes the complexities and hypocrisies of drug abuse in America. The characters of Project Power are vivid and interesting. They are well defined and given motivations that make them empathetic. Dominique Fishback’s character is in over her head and she behaves credibly; Fishback’s character gradually takes the lead and she’s smart in a way that is gratifying. Jamie Foxx is cast as a man who is unscrupulous in his search for the source of the drugs and he’s morally ambiguous while driven by righteous motives. Project Power moves along briskly and it does the sci-fi action quite well. Part of the novelty of the premise is in its limitations; the medication only gives the user superpowers for about five minutes and its effects are unpredictable. The action set pieces are generally kept to a manageable scale and are staged and shot in ways that remain credible.
What Doesn’t: The premise of Project Power is fundamentally something we’ve seen before in other sci-fi action pictures, namely the X-Men series. It’s done well but the overall structure of the movie is familiar and it doesn’t much reinvent this kind of story. Project Power could be the start of an ongoing story or it might be a standalone film. Taken as a single narrative, the end of Project Power suffers from a false sense of finality. Without giving too much away, the villain is a major pharmaceutical company. Such an adversary is not so easily defeated by an action set piece. This film entertains a complex problem but offers a simple solution and so the resolution comes across false and incomplete.
DVD extras: Currently available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: Project Power is a smart action film with a little bit of substance. It’s an interesting riff on some of the themes commonly found in the superhero genre while inserting some political commentary and delivering as an action picture.
Episode: #814 (August 23, 2020)