If there’s one thing I really like, it’s being pleasantly surprised. Project Almanac had quite a few strikes going against it before I saw it. Being produced by both MTV and Michael Bay for instance. And it’s another found footage film which has dug itself a hole so deep there was no sight of anything new. Thankfully, director Dean Israelite and screenwriters Andrew Deutschman and Jason Pagan found a way to breathe new life into the genre with time travel. The final result winds up being way more fun than I anticipated, and winds up being the best new film of January. (Not to discount American Sniper, but I consider that a December release since it opened in limited theaters to snag its Academy Award nominations.)
David (Jonny Weston) is a high school senior with high hopes of admittance to MIT. After making an acceptance video with the help of his friends Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista), and his sister Christina (Virgina Gardner), he’s let down with only an offer of $5,000 in financial aid. David’s mom (Amy Landecker) puts their house up for sale to help pay for tuition, but David finds an old video camera in the attic, discovering himself attending his own 7th birthday party. In the basement, David and his friends find old schematics to “Project Almanac” that his dad was working on before dying in a car crash. David and his friends realize that his dad was working on a time machine and decide to continue what his dad started. After establishing a set of rules, it’s obvious someone will eventually break them and soon enough, the Butterfly Effect is set into motion and David has to figure out how to set things right.
To be honest, Project Almanac should not be as much fun as it is. Israelite keeps things moving fast, but also allows enough set up for us to surprisingly care for the characters. You don’t have to completely turn your brain off to enjoy the time traveling shenanigans. Filled with tons of pop culture references and homages — including a great visual gag straight out of Back to the Future — they namedrop everything from Doctor Who to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Looper. Everything manages to gel and works spectacularly, except for maybe the last two minutes. If I could go back in time, I’d tell writers Deutschman and Pagan to let their film end on their About Time heartfelt ending. While possibly setting themselves up for a sequel, I hope it doesn’t happen, but if we know producer Michael Bay and Paramount, there will probably be more time hopping adventures. At least if the same crew sticks around, this is one franchise I can actually get behind.