Review – Where’s Prof. Xavier When You Need Him? (“Project Power”)

Question: what if there were a pill that, once you swallowed it, gave you Marvel-like superpowers, but for only five minutes? Oh, and sometimes you had no idea what you were getting like invisibility, super-strength, fire-power, etc. Side-effects? You could blow up! Yeah, there’s that teensy-tiny little problem. Would you still take it?

New Orleans is ground zero for the trial-run of an experimental new drug called Power, the super-hero pill that could make you explode. In this story, there are three major players whose lives intersect by the late second act. We first meet street-smart teenager Robin Riley (Dominique Fishback), a high school delinquent by day, secret police drug informant at night. She also cares for her sick mom at home, isn’t that nice? Her only friend is local cop Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is trying to get Power off the streets, but doggone it, even he uses it to fight crime. Hey, if it works, it works!

But one day a new guy rolls into town, a no-nonsense fighting machine called the Major (Jamie Foxx) who, presumably, is hunting down all the Power dealers in town to find Mr. Big and become the number one drug dealer in town. Thinking Robin is a pawn in the game, he kidnaps her and uses her to find the head honcho, but in reality, he’s actually tracking down the people who made the drug because they kidnapped his daughter. Whether it’s Stockholm Syndrome or seeing a father-figure in Major, Robin decides to hang with the brutal killer and help him find his kid. Besides, this guy steals cool stuff for her, so he’s not all that bad, right?

Soon super-cop Frank finds Robin and arrests Major, but he has his world turned upside-down when he realizes he’s been set-up. Reluctantly joining forces with Robin, Frank has to rescue a kidnapped Major (there’s alot of that in this movie, isn’t there?) and his equally kidnapped daughter (Kyanna Simone Simpson). And all the time that Power drug is being popped into the mouths of people, giving them extraordinary abilities and at the most convenient time, I may add. It seemed that every time a problem surfaced, someone had the right pill at the right time AND for the right ability! Well, fancy that!

Written by Mattson Tomlin (The Projectionist), this film is very close to an X-Men or Mutants movie, especially with all the supernatural goofiness going on. Tomlin, who’s mostly done short films and two unknown screenplays, has a nice idea here but it’s a jumbled mess that tries to find it’s footing in the first two acts. Tomlin also likes his clever puns and gags (Robin makes a Batman joke, there’s a Frozen reference), and he even throws out some oddly-placed humor here and there. The ending doesn’t even end, it just finishes without any resolutions. The only things going for this film are the cool SPFX, the acting, and the direction.

Directed by the team of Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman (Paranormal Activity 3 & 4, Nerve), they have a quick, whiz-bang approach to their camerawork, using graduated colors of reds and yellows, lots of slo-mo, and a great use of light & shadow. Y’know, artsy-craftsy stuff. This really comes in handy when the Power pills kick-in. But then you have the actors on the other side of the camera to give this movie its gravitas.

First playing a blood-thirsty killer, then sliding into a compassionate avenger with a heart of gold, only Jamie Foxx could have pulled off such a tricky role with aplomb. Gordon-Levitt is excellent, as always, as the cop with a mission, but the real find here is the Dominique Fishback. Mosty a TV actress (The Deuce, Random Acts of Flyness), her Robin isn’t just a messed-up poor teenager with delusions of being a rapper, but plays it real and close to the bone. She could have strayed into comic side-kick territory like Tiffany Haddish or Marsai Martin, but didn’t.

Currently streaming on Netflix

Limitless (2011)

Question: what if there were a pill that, once you swallowed it, gave you limitless brainpower for a short amount of time, would you take it? Oh, and did I mention that it could have a side-effect of cerebral hemorrhaging and maybe death? Yeah, I should tell you about that little problem, ’cause that happens alot.

In NYC we meet Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), a struggling author and overall underachiever. After his girlfriend breaks up with him, Eddie encounters Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), who gives him a sample of a highly-specialized new drug called NZT-48. Taking it, Eddie’s brain goes into over-drive and acquires perfect recollection of everything that he has ever read, giving him refined interpersonal skills. With his new ‘power’, he calms down his nasty landlord (i.e. he bangs her) and even completes the novel he was working on for years. But the drug soon wears off and Eddie wants more!

Bad news: Vernon is murdered by someone searching for the drug. Good news: Eddie finds Vernon’s stash and starts taking increasing doses. As his life improves, he decides to begin investing in the stock market as he is now a genius with numbers and finances. After he is hired at a brokerage firm, his success is noticed by financial tycoon Carl Van Loon (Robert DeNiro), who tests him by seeking advice on a particular company merger. But after the meeting, Eddie experiences an 18-hour loss of memory. The next day in a meeting with Van Loon, Eddie sees a news telecast that a woman has been murdered in her hotel room. Eddie recognizes her as the woman he slept with during his memory loss and abruptly leaves the meeting. Uh-oh!!

Things start to spiral out-of-control for Eddie when he realizes that everyone taking NZT-48 is either hospitalized or dead. Undaunted, he experiments with NZT-48, learning to control his dosage and hires a lab to reverse-engineer the drug. He also gets a visit from loan shark Gennady (Andrew Howard), who is threatening him to obtain more NZT-48. But his life isn’t going to be as carefree as he’d like it. He’s got to juggle crazy killer loan sharks that want more NZT-48, his business dealings with Van Loon, his girlfriend Lindy (Abby Cornish) who just came back into his life and is now a target, AND the effects of the drug! Will Eddie be able to handle all of this?

Based on Alan Glynn’s 2001 novel, The Dark Fields, screenwriter Leslie Dixon (Overboard, Mrs. Doubtfire) has adapted the book to a damn fine script that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the movie. Usually, films that are narrated by the main character are cliched, but this one actually adds to the feeling and texture of the story. And having Coopers smooth Western drawl doesn’t hurt things either!

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