“Project Almanac” has a lot going against it. It’s a found footage movie with loads of nausea inducing wobbly cam, characters who deliver cheeseball lines like, “So you’re telling me dad left a time machine in the basement?” and an over-played climax that drags on too long but it gets one crucial thing right. And that’s enough to earn a recommend for young sci fi enthusiasts.
Boy genius David Raskin (Jonny Weston) inherited his smarts from his late father, an engineer who was working on a top-secret project at the time of his death. Buried away in the basement are the schematics for a time machine David and his best friends Adam (Allen Evangelista) and Quinn (Sam Lerner), under the constant camera surveillance of sister Christina (Ginny Gardner), discover and build.
After a few test runs they do what every teenage boy would do; they allow the most popular girl in school (Sofia Black-D’Elia) to talk them into taking a big risk with the new machine and use themselves as guinea pigs. It’s the power of the pretty girl to influence and shape the actions of teenage boys, and the movie gets this absolutely correct.
Do they use the machine to go back and kill Hitler? Nope. Save JFK? Nuh-uh. They do what young guys would do. They party at Lollapalooza, use their unique powers to get even with bullies and rig the lottery so they can win big, buy Ferraris and “hire Kim Kardashian to have my babies.” They may be geniuses but they are still concerned with the stuff of youth—girls and being popular—not changing the world.
The movie takes a serious turn in the last third when reality skews and the consequences of time travel become apparent. David must take things into his own hands, but even then, as sentiment and sci fi match and mingle, the movie doesn’t lose track of its teen origins.
Part “Groundhog Day,” part “Project X,” “Project Almanac” has all the annoying traits of found footage movies—“You’re getting all this, right?”—and screams out for a tripod, but for the most part is a zippy young adult sci fi story with equal parts brains and heart.