What have we done to deserve another found-footage movie? The tired hand-held technique that seemed so fresh in 1999 with “The Blair Witch Project” long ago wore out its welcome.
In “Project Almanac,” which follows a group of high school misfits who invent a time travel apparatus, the technique is used as a means to gain entry into the lives of these kids, it makes what could have been a fresh send up of genre conventions seem as cheap and forgettable as all the rest.
In the film, David (Jonny Weston), a handsome social outcast and brilliant science mind, and his friends uncover blueprints for a time travel machine and immediately get to work building it, testing it, and, eventually, using it. In a somewhat amusing wink to the audience, the characters keep restating that they have to film everything.
But, the first hour of the film is so relentlessly paced, it feels like it’s on fast-forward. From the camera movements to the manic dialogue and energy of the teens, the audience is pummeled with jargon and mostly useless information as the kids try to get a handle on their new toy.
There also are a host of out-of-date references (jokes about films like “Argo” and “Looper” from 2012) that only serve to remind that this movie, previously titled “Welcome to Yesterday,” has been sitting on the shelf for a year.
That’s not to say there aren’t any good ideas here. When the kids finally figure out how to jump back in time, and everything mercifully slows down, things get pretty fun for a while as they do exactly what you might expect teenagers would do – going back in time a few days to ace a failed chemistry test, stand up to a bully, win some lottery money and so on.
Things take a dark turn when David gets greedy and jumps back in time alone to try to re-do a botched moment with his crush (Sofia Black-D’Elia) and bad things start happening in the future.
Director Dean Israelite in his feature debut proves that he has a keen knack for conveying teen pluck, friendships and flirtations. The scenes that show the actual process of time travel are even quite thrilling and inventive, but the found-footage gimmick makes it nearly impossible to evaluate his talents.
It’s time to hang up the GoPro and return to actual filmmaking.
Rated: PG-13 for some language and sexual content
Starring: Johnny Weston
Directed by: Dean Israelite