The new sci-fi film "Project Almanac" tells the story of teens who build a time machine and use it for fun and gain until things get out of hand. According to reviews, however, the movie also feels like it's going back in time — and not in a good way — by using the now familiar found-footage approach popularized by 1999's "Blair Witch Project" and countless imitators. Despite delivering some amusing scenes, critics say, director Dean Israelite's film doesn't quite come together.
In a review for The Times, Martin Tsai describes "Almanac" as the latest effort in "Hollywood's seemingly endless quest to use the found-footage gimmick to resuscitate any subgenre." The film offers some satisfying moments — "For once, characters actually attempt what any of us would do with a time machine: They travel to buy a Powerball ticket with winning numbers they know in advance" — but compared with more existential time-travel movies like "Looper" and "Predestination," Tsai says, "the potboiler 'Project Almanac' feels like a leap backward."
The New York Times' Nicolas Rapold similarly calls the found-footage conceit a "tired trick," although "the wish fulfillment of time travel tends to be fun to watch." He continues: "There's some insight and humor about how finding a workaround for experience isn't the same thing as living. But nothing here matches the genre's small-scale classic, 'Prime,' or even 'Premature,' the recent gonzo 'Groundhog Day.' One of [the characters] also mentions 'Looper,' but the self-awareness doesn't save the film from fizzling."
USA Today's Claudia Puig quips, "It's tough to tell what's shakier in 'Project Almanac': the illogical premise or the nausea-inducing camera work. And how about a moratorium on the found-footage genre? What was once fresh and innovative now is tired and overdone." Although the cast of unknowns is "likable enough," she adds, "the movie is far too caught up in the details," and it feels as though the filmmakers "had no idea how to conclude the story."
The Associated Press' Lindsey Bahr asks, "What have we done to deserve another found-footage movie? The tired hand-held technique that seemed so fresh in 1999 … long ago wore out its welcome." There are pacing issues too: The first hour of the film "is so relentlessly paced, it feels like it's on fast-forward," Bahr says, though "when the kids finally figure out how to jump back in time, and everything mercifully slows down, things get pretty fun for a while." Alas, "interest wanes as the stakes get higher."
In a more positive review, the Seattle Times' Soren Andersen says the film is "not as silly as it sounds. Step back a step from 'Almanac,' and the whole thing seems beyond absurd. But while it's playing, you can kind of buy what it's selling." He adds, "The picture unravels toward the end as [the characters'] time tampering comes back to bite them in scenes that feel hurriedly written and cheaply staged. But despite its limitations, 'Project Almanac' is more enjoyable than it has any right to be."
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