Directed by: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Written by: Mattson Tomlin
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback, Rodrigo Santoro
Obtaining superpowers has continually grown as something people aspire to have, especially with the increased popularity of comic book movies in the 21st century. One of the best effects it brings comes in with other stories having the ability to play with these ideas to tell their own stories, which Project Power attempts to put forward. While utilizing an interesting allegory for the crack epidemic pumped into Black communities, this film shows how the attainment of powers comes with major drawbacks.
With a pill called “Power” being sold into communities in New Orleans, it offers a high-risk high reward proposition where the person who consumes it can have various superpowers for a duration of five minutes or they could also explode as a side effect. It creates rampant crime where detective Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tries to put an end as an aggrieved father, Art (Jamie Foxx) searches for his kidnapped daughter.
Plenty of concepts to go through with its world-building, Project Power has so much to establish in the little time it has. It needs to establish New Orleans in this futuristic world while displaying this evil organization bringing in this pill into the community. A tall task to order and it certainly struggles in finding its rhythm in moments but overall the film does fairly well in trying to bring everything under wraps to center the story on three individuals trying to navigate this dangerous world.
The main perspective received comes through Robin (Dominique Fishback) as she works in the streets selling this pill while also being a student in high school. She knows how to take care of herself but it also gets revealed she has a working relationship with detective Frank Shaver. Those two stay together for a good part of the film, as it displays the dual manner the fight to get rid of this pill has grown. Art comes in with his own motivations and interrupts their flow to have his own moments with Robin, as he searches for his daughter, who was kidnapped by the same people pushing this pill. All three converge and get embroiled in a turbulent situation where the large government entities and others in power oppose the effort of the protagonists.
Allegorically, this film does not hide that it follows similar tactics used to pump crack cocaine into the Black community in the 20th Century. Seen as a way to mess and control with people deemed in a lower class allows pills to offer superpowers for a very brief amount of time but the more taken continually puts one at risk of being overwhelmed by the product and ultimately succumbing to it physically. The allegory certainly works because of the way it shows the damage it can cause, but it rarely shows the widespread impact it has on the community as a whole. Things get a bit muddled later on, but a valid attempt overall.
The true highlight in the film arises in how the action scenes get filmed because the story took a bit of a dive when trying to assess character development. However, Project Power establishes some thrilling sequences where the abilities get displayed for how they meet its ultimate potential of causing damage. Each pill comes with its unpredictability where the person could get a variety of abilities, including super-strength, being engulfed in flames, and many others. It becomes a roll of the dice. One sequence, in particular, gets captured from within a tube showing everything occurring with the main characters that make what occurs somewhat comedic even if the situation calls for drama. Whether or not it was the intention can be another question. While these sequences show plenty of promise, the use of the powers does get rather confusing where the threat of exploding from ingesting the pill presents itself, but it gets to a point where every character seemingly takes it and faces absolutely no repercussions. It loses the stakes of the situation, especially when this potential consequence gets presented as a grave danger for anyone attempting to take this supplement.
Very messy as a whole with its storytelling with far too many threads, even with three main characters to follow, Project Power uses the popularity of superpowered stories to its advantage. It creates some engaging sequences with just enough emotional attachment to make each battle mean something. Robin becomes someone to root for throughout as she gets herself in seriously dangerous positions as a teen but more than holds her own without taking the pill for its benefits.