A couple of ingenious wrinkles distinguish this Back to the Future from Looper and its other cousins. It’s not as moving as the best films of the genre, but it boasts decent effects (unlike the far funnier and more moving Safety Not Guaranteed) and the kids-eye-view of what one does with this power makes it an entertaining ride.
“You have to kill Hitler. It’s like ‘Time Travel 101.’”
It all starts when science whiz high school senior David (Jonny Weston) and his younger sister (Virginia Gardner) stumble across an old camcorder with video of David’s seventh birthday party, the one “right before Dad died.” An odd Signs moment in that video—David, as he looks now, is glimpsed in a mirror in the background of a party 10 years before.
That sends him poking around Dad’s old workshop, where he and his pals uncover plans for “Project Almanac,” a “temporal displacement” device. That’s a blueprint for time traveling, liberal arts majors.
Dean Israelite’s film bogs down a bit in the trial-and-error experiments David, Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista) conduct to make this gadget work. A Playstation and a Prius are required at various junctures.
But it’s what happens after they get it running that sets Project Almanac apart—just a smidgen.
Quinn wants better grades, so he goes Groundhog Day on his chemistry exam. They want money, so they game the Lotto. The science nerds want fame, and they find ways to get it.
“People know who we are,” Quinn marvels. “I never had that.”
And David can finally make contact with his dream girl, Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia). They vow to “film everything,” and they do. They pledge to only travel as a pack—all five of them—be it back to Lollapalooza shows they missed, or further. And as they break their time travel “rules,” they get a handle on the consequences of tampering with time.
The cast is competent, but has few moments to make us empathize with their fate, the guilt they might feel over the ripple effects of their actions. The film sets us up for a Peggy Sue Got Married moment with David and his dead dad—that’s a dud. Nobody truly stands out.
The idea in this much-delayed thriller is just to keep things light and moving along, and reference a lot of time travel movies as they do. In this, it succeeds. Lerner gets the funny lines, the young ladies get lots of short shorts scenes and science get short shrift, though they do mention Einstein.
Project Almanac (PG-13): ★★★✩✩