When high school senior David Raskin (Jonny Weston) and his younger sister, Christina (Virginia Gardner), stumble upon footage of David’s seventh birthday on a mysterious video camera belonging to their deceased father, they notice something a little strange.
After close examination, it becomes clear that a 17-year-old David was a guest at his own birthday party. Along with their friends Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista), David and Christina set off along a path of discovery that leads to the realization that their father was a brilliant inventor involved in the design of the world’s first time machine.
Driven by ambitious aspirations, the gang of techies assembles the machine, only to discover (like so many Hollywood time travelers before them) that the consequences of time travel are far-reaching and potentially disastrous.
Although “Project Almanac” explores time travel, a relatively tired theme within Hollywood (there will never be a better time travel movie than “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”), the movie builds upon a solid directorial debut from Dean Israelite, quiet humor and strong cast performances to craft a genuinely entertaining story.
Time travel theory is not new to the big screen—it’s a dangerous genre to explore given that the concepts have been pretty thoroughly worn out. However, Israelite uses some new-age filmmaking strategies and a teenage focus to do what “Chronicle” did for the superhero genre—that is, the whole movie is shot as if David and his friends are filming themselves.
This trick allows Israelite to maximize his limited budget and add an element of intimacy with the audience. However, it does call into doubt the likelihood that the group would actually manage to film every facet of the construction and travel process.
Israelite also does a good job limiting the role of special effects in the film, despite the fact that it is a science fiction movie about time travel. Rather than abusing the many tools now at the disposal of filmmakers, Israelite’s use of CGI is minimal and tasteful.
The sound effects in “Project Almanac” were also pretty awesome. The deep, whirring time machine and many high-pitched explosions added an element of intensity to the movie.
Weston delivers a strong performance as the brilliant, though cripplingly awkward David. His acting chops carry most of the film’s weight, and he does a relatively good job of showing how stressful altering time can be for a high school senior (though not as good as Keanu Reaves).
Naturally, an unreasonable amount of this stress is the result of a flame David harbors for a beautiful and woefully popular girl in his class named Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia). D’Elia does an admirable job of bringing a level of inimitability to worn out “hot-popular girl” role, however her performance is probably the weakest in the film. Still, this relationship has the greatest impact on the direction of the movie, with some of the darker decisions being made as a result of David’s obsessive passion for Jessie.
Gardner, Lerner and Evangelista are entertaining as Weston’s quirky group of friends, bringing an element of sarcastic teenage humor that relieves some of the movie’s more cliché time travel moments. A nifty little subplot love story plays out between Gardner and Evangelista, but Lerner’s Quinn is probably the most likable character, given his affably boisterous personality and resentful relationship with a stubborn high school science teacher.
Overall “Project Almanac” was surprisingly good. Quality directing, strong performances and a passable time travel plot give it respectable street cred, but because it is just another time travel movie, it is ultimately forgettable. Go see a matinee show if you find yourself with a free afternoon—but if you’re looking for the next “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” just wait for the DVD.