[Screen It]


(2020) (Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt) (R)

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Action: Two men separately try to find the source of a new synthetic drug that gives users superpowers that last five minutes at a time.

Robin (DOMINIQUE FISHBACK) is a teenager growing up in New Orleans who's quite gifted at rapping. She's also a dealer on the streets trying to make money to pay for her sick mom's medical expenses. But the drug she's peddling is new and it's one that gives its users superpowers that vary from person to person, although all last just five minutes.

Realizing he needs to use those to even the playing field with criminals on the same, local cop Frank (JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT) buys and uses the product from Robin while trying to find the main source of the drug. That turns out to be a man named Biggie (RODRIGO SANTORO) who's hoping to move from local sales to international, deep-pocketed buyers.

Also searching for that source is Art (JAMIE FOXX), a former soldier who was experimented on with the drug, all of which resulted in his daughter being born with such powers. Now that she's been kidnapped by forces that want to extract her biochemistry and synthesize that to make such superpowers permanent for users, he's trying to find out who's behind all of that so that he can rescue his daughter. With his path colliding with that of Frank and Robin, they end up teaming up to find the girl and stop the various villains.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10

Most every kid -- and nowadays a fair number of adults -- wishes they had a superpower at one or more points in their lives. Usually, that's simply to stop a person who's bothering them -- be that a family member, bully or dangerous stranger -- but sometimes it's revenge motivated or simply wanting to be an old-fashioned Superman and save the day in a "truth, justice and American way" fashion.

Of course, that's an impossibility -- the likes of radioactive spiders and such might exist to some small degree, but certainly don't imbue those they bite with such powers -- but there are illegal street drugs that sometimes -- but only briefly -- give users superhuman strength.

"Back in the day" that was PCP, but there's a newish synthetic drug in town called Flakka that makes taking that look like drinking one caffeinated soda in comparison (videos of people high on that could be the creepiest thing I've seen all year).

I don't know if that's what inspired screenwriter Mattson Tomlin to write the spec script "Power," but co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (who together directed the third and fourth installments of the "Paranormal Activity" franchise along with the 2016 film "Nerve") have now brought that into existence in "Project Power."

In this action flick, a synthetic drug gives its users superpowers, but only for five minutes at a time, with such enhanced abilities varying from person to person, ranging from turning into a human torch to becoming a disappear-into-the woodwork-chameleon and so on.

The drug and those abilities directly impact the film's three main characters. One is teenager Robin (Dominique Fishback) who's a gifted budding rapper but sells the drugs on the streets of New Orleans to make enough money to care for her ill mother.

For NOPD cop Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), he wants to find her distributor -- and bristles at fed types who routinely stymie his department's work to crack that. But he also uses the drug himself to level the playing field with criminal types who've been using it to their advantage.

And then there's Art (Jamie Foxx), a former soldier who has a past bad history with the drug and now likewise wants to find the distributor in order to locate and rescue his teenage daughter who was kidnapped in direct relation to all of that.

Of course, their stories and motives collide and Joost and Schulman deliver some effective and exciting action sequences (most notably an early one featuring the aforementioned human torch). That said, I never found myself as personally invested in the characters as I probably could and should have been. And the film's villains are little more than an afterthought in terms of any sort of deep characterizations.

There's also some social commentary on how the federal government isn't always looking out for "the little guy," be that a direct reference to the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the Big Easy or the introduction of drugs into lower-income neighborhoods (a reference to the CIA allegedly doing just that back in the '80s with crack cocaine).

Thankfully, that never gets too preachy and the nearly two-hour film zips along at a good clip, with the leads making this instantly watchable. Like the drug portrayed within that time, the film works better in bursts than as a collective whole, but "Project Power" is nonetheless engaging enough to warrant a recommendation and a 6 out of 10 rating.

Reviewed August 9, 2020 / Posted August 14, 2020

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