When a capsule that provides its addicts with erratic superpowers for five minutes lands on the streets of New Orleans, a teenage supplier Robin (Dominique Fishback) and a New Orleans Police Officer Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) squad with former soldier Art (Jamie Foxx) to dismantle the party accountable for its invention and distribution – especially the Source behind the manufacturing of the dangerous pills, Biggie (Rodrigo Santoro). Project Power was made from an original screenplay by Mattson Tomlin, and directed by the tag team duo of Henry Joost/Ariel Schulman (Nerve, Viral). What the film lacks in plausibilities, it makes up for with a marvelous craftsmanship of landmark locations and dramatic tension with an emotional release upon the film’s epic climax. One of the main reasons for watching a motion picture is to experience emotion; Project Power delivers a wide variety of moments that exude passionate reactions with exhilarating sensations.
NOPD Officer Frank rescues Robin from getting her supply of pills stolen by a group of goons, notably one named Newt (Machine Gun Kelly) outside of an abandoned Six Flags Amusement Park – shut down in 2005 due to being flooded by Hurricane Katrina. Robin foreshadows an American cultural reference to Clint Eastwood that would appear in the film’s final act, and when Frank questions her knowledge of the legendary actor/director, Robin impressively responds with Eastwood’s work in The Bridges of Madison County (1995). Robin has an alliance with Frank; she tips him with information that could lead to taking down Biggie – the alleged source of the superpower pills. Frank gifts an ecstatic Robin with a motorbike, and while the soundtrack transitions to the song “Gotta Lotta” by 2 Chainz feat. Lil Wayne, the film’s musical composer, Joseph Trapanese (Robin Hood, Straight Outta Compton) masterfully fades the song into an orchestrated composition with an establishing shot of what appears to be the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in Louisiana – the lengthiest continuous highway bridge in the nation that contains two parallel bridges with a route that lasts up to two hours.
Art commutes with his pickup truck through the over-the-water causeway, arriving to what’s known as ExhibitBe – an abandoned five-story apartment complex covered in amazing street art that was transformed from housing projects into a graffiti hub. Art tracks down Newt, who resides in one of the units. After Art sneaks his way inside, he finds himself in a battle with a roaring and growling Newt, overdosing on the pills. A high-pitched revving roars out of Newt as he transforms from a human into a blazing inferno man. He snarls while thudding and grunting with Art in an one on one fight within the interiors of the complex. Art captures Newt inside a bathtub filled with cold water – putting out his flames. When Art demands to know the name of the source, Newt spills the name “Biggie”, then explodes, and Art is blown back, then we’re shown rapid flashback images of Art amid the aftermath of a vehicular accident where his pickup truck his flipped over and his daughter Tracy (Kyanna Simone Simpson) is being abducted.
Behind Art’s anger and determination, he has a soft side; a heart for angelic little girls who resemble thoughts of his kidnapped daughter. Art displays his care and attention to a Caucasian girl being held by her mother at a gas station; he tilts his sunglasses goofily to the side and makes the little girl chuckle. Meanwhile, Robin sits inside of her school classroom sneakily texting with who she thinks is Newt, but in fact its Art, who managed to confiscate Newt’s phone before he witnessed his demise. When Robin’s teacher puts her on the spot for whispering with her fellow classmate, she has a daydream where she freestyle raps in front of the class, ridiculing the teacher. The freestyle lyrical rhymes are filled with profound points-of-view, and when her classmate begins beatboxing, Robin is all swag with spitting, “What’s the difference between a student and teacher? While one of them is growing up, the other’s getting weaker. You thought that you could hide, that the system is a lie…wasn’t built for me to thrive…Diploma’s won’t determine who I am or who I might be.” This scene plays out in real time, but it was a figment of Robin’s imagination. Nevertheless, it sets up her characters embedded passion of becoming a rap artist. According to an interview with Insider, screenwriter Mattson Tomlin fought hard to keep the freestyle rap sequences in the script during pitch meetings prior to the production of the film. Robin has a hidden talent, and she showcases this throughout multiple instances in Project Power.
“As we were trying to figure out what that looked like, we found out how coral fish are really able to camouflage themselves. It looked like something out of ‘Avatar.'” Mattson Tomlin said in the interview with insider. “Once we had that, that seemed like something we should hang our hats on.” The film’s screenwriter was referring to the visceral elements the pills would give its user in terms of superpowers, so they turned to the innate powers of animals as an inspiration, resulting in a brilliant sequence where Frank illegally pops a power pill to infiltrate a crime scene and takedown an armed robber – The Camouflage Man (Cory DeMeyers) – who morphs into the colors of every object it crosses paths with. And when Art temporarily abducts Robin, it causes the audience to question his motives, since Frank discovers from his superiors within the NOPD that Art could be the notorious source of the pills – the man they call “Biggie”.
The editing by Jeff McEvoy (Runner Runner, The Lincoln Lawyer) is cunning and kinetic, and the cinematography by Michael Simmonds (Family, Halloween) captures the distinctive atmosphere of New Orleans – arguably the most inimitable city in the nation. Tony Scott’s Déjà Vu (2006), starring Denzel Washington and Paula Patton, had a similarly incomparable ambience from shooting on-location in New Orleans. Project Power implements iconic locations; the chameleonic robber jumps inside a trolley known as a streetcar. We see Church’s Chicken Fast Food, The Hong Kong Food Market, and Robin’s residential home situated in a neighborhood directly underneath the Crescent City Bridge – an iconic New Orleans landmark that played a major role in Déjà Vu (2006).
This film has depth in the ways it explores the word “power”. The pills in this film represent how drugs can make you feel temporarily powerful – but how they can also kill you with one hit, in addition to causing withdrawals. This is a superhero movie that explores the different use and abuse of power; physical power with temporary superhero capabilities and metaphorical power with financial gains of capitalism where the elites capitalize on damaging the health and well-being of citizens through dealing drugs. Moreover, the film hints toward governmental control of police departments and the mutual politicalization of police having relationships with financial powers and political powers in the entire country. This particular aspect is driven home with the character of Frank being a cop who cares about the citizens of New Orleans more than he does with the politics that come with his badge. Frank is determined to fight for the greater good of humanity, even if it means risking his career and his life.
There are a few instances where the plot carries forward for its own conveniences, unapologetically depicting certain situations as unrealistic and implausible. But these shortcomings are masked by the fact that his film is one big metaphor disguised in the genre of Sci-Fi. Project Power delivers on kinetic action sequences and also makes contemporary issues like systemic racism the forefront of its themes. “The system is designed to swallow you whole.” Art tells Robin, a young African-American girl who has the intellectual gift of freestyle rhyming. Since Project Power is dressed with superhero fantasies, it doesn’t have to concern itself with a realistic plot in order to prove a significant underlying thesis.
Dominique Fishback’s memorable performance as Robin has the potential to hold a significant representation of young African-American girls who are shown to follow their hearts and focus on their innate abilities amid these trying times of 2020, and the ongoing protests involved with “Black Lives Matter”, police brutality and systemic racism. The creative pairing of Jamie Foxx and Joseph-Gordon Levitt on-screen is a refreshing sight to witness. Joseph Trapanese’s musical score elevates Project Power to a different pedigree; it supplements the film’s magnificent Action/Sci-Fi climax with heightened emotions and love. The main point of watching any film is to experience emotion; Project Power does this with Jamie Foxx’s performance as a father longing for his long-lost daughter. It’s a film about keeping drugs off the streets, about supporting family, and about believing in who you are and not letting school or education determine your worth.
Grade: 85% | B+ | Above Average | 3 Stars ***