Netflix has been a reliable source of cinematic fun during the coronavirus pandemic, releasing a selection of its biggest blockbusters while other studios have been sitting on their hands in lieu of the multiplex. The latest is the stylish, super-powered thriller Project Power, which rips unique abilities from the pages of comic books and houses them within illicit pills being traded on the streets of New Orleans. Pop a Power and you'll find yourself with a superhuman ability — synthesised from some corner of the animal kingdom — for five minutes.
Our entry point into this world is Dominique Fishback's small-time dealer Robin, whose clients include Saints-loving cop Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). She finds herself falling into the orbit of tough guy Art (Jamie Foxx), who has personal reasons for tracking down the kingpin responsible for bringing Power to the streets. Soon, they've formed a team of sorts as they hunt down the supplier, while fighting off super-powered goons aplenty.
Project Power has a fun concept and one that feels surprisingly fresh given the glut of super-powered humans who seem to occupy almost every inch of celluloid in modern Hollywood. The script by Mattson Tobin — co-writer of the upcoming The Batman with Matt Reeves — intermingles high-octane action with some swipes at US healthcare and the government response to caring for New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It's low-hanging fruit, but the film lands its jabs with considerable style.
With so much going on, it's perhaps inevitable that the film feels a little chaotic and over-stuffed. Directing duo Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who brought an impressively frenetic energy to their 2016 techno-thriller Nerve, mount the action sequences with gleefully violent flair, even if some of the visual effects err dangerously towards the realm of video games. As fun as the action is, it's often over all too quickly, in stark contrast to the expansive and beautifully brutal carnage of Extraction — Netflix's other big blockbuster of the lockdown period.
But there's simply too much going on for much of it to make sense. The villains are barely sketched beyond a few hissed lines of dialogue and Foxx and Gordon-Levitt, while both delivering solid performances, could probably have been synthesised into one character. The quieter moments, particularly between Art and Robin, are well handled, but there's a sense that the scene-stealing Fishback deserves more of the movie than there's ultimately room for her to be given. A brief sequence in which she imagines a battle rap smackdown against her teacher is one of the more fun flourishes in the entire movie.
What Project Power does, however, is deliver a satisfying burst of defiantly adult super-power antics, complete with snapping bones, arterial spray and a brief science lesson about the unique predatory abilities of the pistol shrimp. A talented cast and the smart concept keep things moving, even as the bounteous plot threads threaten to tangle into something ungainly and incoherent. With the world established and the groundwork done, there's a chance that a sequel, if it comes, could really reach new heights.
Dir: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Scr: Mattson Tomlin
Prd: Eric Newman, Bryan Unkeless
DOP: Michael Simmonds
Music: Joseph Trapanese
Run time: 112 mins
Project Power is available to stream on Netflix now.