Burning Down the House: Old School Goes New School in Pasadena

City Pulse | February 28, 2012
“Animal House” for the apocalypse generation, “Project X” is a hip celebration of drugs, sex, alcohol, and music for their cumulative power to incite violence, disgust, and ultimately, respect. Debut director Nima Nourizadeh chaperones the film-within-a-film proceedings. Pasadena high school senior Thomas is a dweeb. Even his dad thinks he’s a loser. Thomas’s best friend Costa (Oliver Cooper) seizes upon Thomas’s upcoming birthday weekend, during which Thomas’s parents are out of town, to orchestrate a “game-changing” house party. Thomas’s rotund nerd pal JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown) hopes to at least do some finger-banging at the party—a skill for which he can name at least a dozen different techniques. Costa’s black-clad associate Dax performs videographer duties to document the preparations and execution of said fiesta, centered around Thomas’s backyard swimming pool where signs advise that bikinis are not allowed. Good thing for the boys, the girl attendees are easily led. Windows and bones are broken as the shindig erupts into an all-night block party that not even local police can break up. Of course none of the illicit activities come without a price.

The film’s weakest, and most clichéd, device arrives in the character of Thomas’s reliable gal-pal-from-childhood Kirby (played by Kirby Bliss Blanton). A stunning blonde clearly out of his league, Kirby is nonetheless sold as the girl next door whose familiarity to Thomas and his buddies has bred contempt. She doesn’t fall into the “game-changing” paradigm the boys see for themselves. Naturally, jealousies will test Kirby’s and Thomas’s potential for a romantic connection—which in this case comes with a hovering “m” for monogamy.

The crux of the story’s theme of teen rebellion against all authority comes comically into focus when a couple of cops answer an angry neighbor’s call about all the noise coming from Thomas’s suburban Pasadena home. Alerted by their pair of 12-year-old security guards, our party hosts miraculously get their rowdy party members to hide silently around the pool while they confront the officers at the front door. Costa has the gift of gab. As the group’s honorary son of an attorney he knows just enough legalese to prevent the cops from entering the premises without raising a red flag. The relatively subtle comic exchange comes as a welcome break from the film’s series of escalating blooper moments that include things like girls peeing on the lawn and the inexplicable presence of an angry midget who gets temporarily stuffed into the kitchen oven.

It’s worth noting that a producing credit goes to Todd Phillips (director on such party comedies as “Old School” and the “Hangover” franchise). This feature is significant inasmuch as it establishes the film’s top-drawer production values. The story itself was inspired by a house party in Australia where a teenager posted the address of his house of MySpace and ended up with over 500 drunk revelers doing $20,000 worth of property damage.

For as brainless as “Project X” might seem on the surface, it’s a cunning comedy that serves as a dynamic surrogate entertainment experience for testosterone and estrogen-driven young audiences to get their rocks off without doing any lasting damage to their own communities. Be grateful for “Project X.” It is a ribald romp for those audience members who require its healing qualities.

Rated R. 87 mins. (B-) (Three Stars – out of five/ no halves)

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