Found-footage movies are so yesterday. When the genre first burst onto the screen with The Blair Witch Project, the gimmick of shooting an entire film from the POV of a handheld device seemed revelatory. Subsequent movies like Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield pushed the format to greater heights and maximized its effectiveness. But since those groundbreaking works, found-footage has come to mean any picture shot with a character’s handheld device, whether it serves the story or not. Unfortunately, Project Almanac employs the format to disastrous effect.
Midway through this clumsy Michael Bay-produced time-travel flick, hot girl Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia), tired of having her every move captured for posterity, says to a friend holding a camera, “You don’t have to film everything.” Sage advice. No one, not even the most self-absorbed teen, records their every lunch encounter or boring chemistry class. But the kids in Project Almanac do. It makes no logical sense, but that’s a minor quibble compared to the film’s other illogical choices.
The story gets off to a promising start when 17-year-old David (Jonny Weston) finds a camcorder in his family’s attic. It hasn’t been used in ten years, but apparently it roars to life when he turns it on. Amazing battery life! The last thing it recorded was his seventh birthday party—which was also the day his dad was killed in a car accident. While watching the footage, David sees his present-day reflection in a mirror. How can this be? He then scurries down to the basement, where his scientist father worked on various projects. When he discovers a blueprint for how to build a time machine, he and his nerdy friends immediately start constructing it. So far, so good, but it’s here that the movie completely throws logic out the window. If David has seen himself in the past, it means the time machine already exists and he has used it. They don’t need to build the contraption; they need to find it. But if the time machine doesn’t exist, it means that David and his cohorts aren’t living in the unaltered present the movie suggests since he has already gone back in time. The only reason they build the machine is because they have seen David in the past. But how could he be in the past if the machine didn’t exist? There are several other plot holes in the lazy script, but none surpass this whopper.
Project Almanac makes a good case that no teen not named Marty McFly should ever touch a time machine. These kids aren’t interested in righting the wrongs of history or any other noble endeavor. David doesn’t even consider going back to prevent his dad’s death. No, they’re only interested in retaking a chemistry test to get a better grade, winning the lottery, attending a concert they missed, and increasing their popularity among their classmates. When they realize their actions have inadvertently caused some major disasters, including a plane crash, David desperately tries to rectify things. Unfortunately, he’s incapable of doing anything that could completely salvage these messy situations, much less the murky movie he’s stuck in.
Weston, Black-D’Elia, and the rest of the cast, which includes Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, and Virginia Gardner, deserve credit for pumping some much needed life into their thinly drawn characters, and making us care about their increasingly preposterous predicament. Too bad time travel isn’t possible, at least not yet. If it was, the filmmakers could go back and rewrite the script, ditch the found-footage style, and take full advantage of the concept’s potential to explore important themes, such as the consequences of playing God. As it stands now, we have a misguided, inconsequential time-travel movie that feels hopelessly stuck in the past.