Time travel is a little like a Red Ryder BB Gun: It's only fun 'til somebody loses an eye.
You might think that when I say eye, I mean the fabric of space and time. And I do mean that. But those real-life optical noggin balls are in serious jeopardy from time travel too—certainly from the time machine David and Christina Raskin find in their basement.
Their father designed the thing before he died, but given that it was 2004, he lacked an adequate power source to run it. (Most of the ancient world's power back then was, as you already know, supplied through boiling steam and thinking happy thoughts.) He hid its main component in a secret compartment, perhaps because he understood that time machines would not be ideal playthings for his kids.
But that was a decade ago, and David's now a bright, ambitious 17-year-old with hopes of getting a scholarship to MIT. He lives in a more technologically advanced age wherein smartphones practically rain from the sky. He has all the tools necessary to complete his father's device.
It's hard work, still, building a time machine. Anyone who has ever built one can tell you that. Every time they turn it on, the only thing it seems to do is cause every sharp, metallic instrument in the basement to rise and float and spin, creating all manner of, yes, eye-damaging threats. But do David and his friends stop? Do they even bother to pack up all those sharp, metallic instruments and move them to a safer locale? Of course not! They're foolhardy teens, the class of humanoid that invented car surfing! And not just any foolhardy teens, but foolhardy teens starring in a movie produced by MTV! Safety, shmafety!
Then one day David has an epiphany. A battery from a DeLorean—er, I mean, a Toyota Prius—might be just the ticket to give the machine the juice it needs to throw someone back in time. And who owns a Prius? Jessie, David's longtime, unreachable crush, that's who. Bonus: She has pretty optical noggin balls that haven't yet been peppered with BBs.
As these teens irresponsibly mess up the space-time continuum ever more seriously—leading to injury and heartbreak and even death—some realize that time travel is a lot more complex than they thought it was. They try to correct their mistakes and save people by doing more time-hopping, and that's nice. [Spoiler Warning] What's better, though, is David eventually coming to understand that it was a mistake to turn the thing on in the first place. He makes the hard but right decision to time travel one more time so he can destroy it.
So David ends and begins things with noble motives. Because the whole things started with him wanting to talk with his father again—and, if he can, save him from the car accident that claimed his life.
David tells his friends they shouldn't "play God" with the time machine.
David goes back in time to coax Jessie into being his girlfriend by kissing her at a critical moment. When he returns to the present, she has rewarded him by being in his bedroom wrapped in a towel. He finds that she plans to sleep over (after lying to her dad), and when he asks her whether they had sex, she says yes. David asks her to open the towel so he can see her naked, and she obliges. The two hop in bed together, kissing and making out. (It's implied that they have sex again.)
Quinn jokingly tells David that he plans to have sex with multiple women. There's a reference to masturbation. Sexual quips are made at the expense of teens' mothers. There's talk of high school infidelity, and there's a hint of lesbian attraction. Women and girls are shown in revealing outfits, including bikinis and short, tight shorts. Sometimes the clothes are wet, adding to the intended sensuality. David ogles Jessie's rear and legs. Quinn and Adam also can't get enough of the female form. The camera eyes Christina's cleavage. David shows off his shirtless torso.
As mentioned, David's dad dies in a car crash. Another guy gets hit by a car, forcing him to walk around on crutches which, of course, leads to a fatal airline disaster. We see someone in a coma. On the run from police, Adam badly cuts his hand.
There's talk that the time machine, which is already causing inanimate objects to spin, fly around and break, might start blowing people up. And as it is, seeing yourself while visiting the past leads to complete obliteration. One traveler is zapped out of existence in this way, while another has a close call.
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word. Ten or more f-word stand-ins (like "freaking" and "frickin'"). We hear at least 60 s-words and a bevy of other profanities ("a--," "b--ch," "d--n," "h---"). God's name is misused more than 40 times (once with "dang"), and Jesus' name is abused four or five times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
The time travelers sometimes sit around and sip from brown bottles. (They could be bottles of beer or bottles of root beer, a distinction the movie's makers presumably wanted to keep ambiguous.)
Other Negative Elements
After first sending a toy car back in time for a whole minute—and seeing it materialize halfway through the basement wall—the next logical, rational thing for these guys to do would be, of course, try the thing out on themselves. Let's not worry about the plastic car sticking out of the basement wall, or that they're taking guidance from an almost-complete stranger (Jessie) who knows nothing about science, or that practically every time-travel story ever—up to and including that one episode on The Simpsons—has ended in unmitigated disaster. When you've got a time machine, you might as well use it, right? There are tests to cheat on! Concerts to go to! And it's gotta be way safer than car surfing.
Where are their parents? Almost completely out of the picture. David's mother is the only living parent we actually see, and it's telling that she's only filmed at a distance. She has no clue as to how her children are spending their time, and while David and Christina seem to care for her, she's as critical to their day-to-day lives as a dusty conversation piece.
More tangibly, at least from a content perspective, David and his pals break into school and steal scads of hydrogen. Quinn shows disrespect to his teachers and does indeed use the machine to cheat on a test. To get back at a bully, Christina goes back in time to spill two massive sodas on her enemy. The five of them manipulate time to win the lottery.
Most movies about time travel are pretty convoluted. That's part of the point: Time is complex, and many such movies want to illustrate the crazy ways in which our lives intersect. Most want us to learn the sci-fi life lesson that even with the best of time-traveling intentions, such meddling can blow up in your face.
But rarely has that salient point been made in such an irresponsible manner as it is in Project Almanac.
Watching the action through the lens of an always-running video camera (an annoying and overused conceit that's particularly ludicrous here) Project Almanac is superficial, problematic and lame. While the story eventually twists itself to end in a reasonably good place, its pretzel-like contortions take us to some really inadvisable places.
The movie posits that physical attraction is the real basis for a good romantic relationship, with sex being its natural (and beautiful) culmination. It sees stealing school property—locked up for a good reason—as just good fun. And even as Adam says that something like a time machine should be used to help people, not to "party," the movie's vibe seems to disagree.
I'm a bit happy that Project Almanac has such a clunky name. That alone might make some moviegoers spend their time elsewhere.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Jonny Weston as David Raskin; Sofia Black-D'Elia as Jessie; Sam Lerner as Quinn; Allen Evangelista as Adam; Virginia Gardner as Christina; Amy Landecker as Kathy Raskin; Gary Weeks as Ben Raskin
Dean Israelite ( )
January 30, 2015
June 9, 2015