‘Project Almanac’ an earnest, if illogical, found-footage entry


By Ian Flanagan / Staff Writer

“Project Almanac”

Directed by: Dean Israelite

Starring: Jonny Weston, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Sam Lerner

Rated PG-13 for some language and sexual content

Grade: C+

It may not contribute anything groundbreaking to either the time travel genre or the now-fading, found-footage canon, but “Project Almanac” is nonetheless a diverting, breathless sci-fi yarn — provided that you don’t think too hard. 

The heavily flawed film remains endearing mainly because it is so eager to please. “Almanac” charges forward at a breakneck pace, reveling in its own lucid, frenetic energy, but the film would be far more respectable if its story held up to the slightest bit of scrutiny. 

We mustn’t get too worked up about the coherence of time-travel movies. It should be easy to forgive certain things, such as how a group of high school students are able to construct a portable time travelling device. The teenage collective, led by brainiac David (Jonny Weston), succeed — after a great deal of trial and error — once they discover instructions and equipment for the machine left by David’s late father. 

It’s not really the assembly that’s hardest to swallow, but the choices our supposedly whip-smart protagonists make once they venture into the past. Getting rich fast with knowledge of the future and living it up at Lollapalooza are easy decisions to accept by impulsive youth, but going to their school to get better grades? What if one of their peers were to notice two versions of any of the five of them walking through the hallways? Coming into contact with your past self could rip a hole in the universe, yet it’s the first thing these geniuses do with their newfound power. 

The group includes David’s sister (Virginia Gardner) — who is mostly off-screen filming home video footage of the events of the movie — his two buddies Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista) and the obligatory romantic interest Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia). They all make a pact to never jump through time alone, but when David misses his shot with Jessie during the debauchery of the music festival, he goes back solo to get another chance. He is pleased to return to a present where the two of them are happily entangled, but he finds that an unbelievable chain reaction created new tragedies in the process. 

The drama of the final act involves David repeatedly returning to the past to solve a problem he created by returning to the past earlier, but it takes a while for him to realize the irony of his situation. The film is sloppy about explaining how each new negative change is manifested, but the implied sentiment about karma and the inevitable balance of the universe is appreciated. Point being, no one can have it all.

The cast of unknowns is fun to watch, and the script’s tendency for humor keeps things relaxed just when the characters’ illogical actions are most obvious. But for every neat trick the film pulls, it turns around and breaks its own rules. The science-fiction is almost digestible before the convoluted incoherence of its latter half. 

“Project Almanac” is more concerned with cheap thrills than making sense, and it also gives little reason for utilizing the well-worn found-footage gimmick, unlike its recent sharp use in Josh Trank’s “Chronicle.” It makes basic mistakes within this format, too — we can hear characters from across a crowd, and the camera has infinite battery life — and tries to cover its tracks by moving the story along faster than it hopes the audience can think. 

What was probably intended as a thrilling head trip settles for being a brainless, giddy time-waster. If you really need your fix of fantastical found-footage romps, just revisit the superior “Chronicle.”

Leave a comment.