At first, I was complaining because I've seen too many sci-fi movies and
TV shows. I've seen too many things that deal with the same or similar
events and themes as this one, but being derivative can hardly count as a
criticism any more being that every thing at this point is. So, the
question is, "Can this movie be derivative in an interesting or
innovative way?" I would say yes, but still there isn't enough to make
it solid or an outstanding entry.
Dane DeHaan is a 20-year-old actor who popped onto the scene four years ago in television. His best work-to-date was his role in the final season of HBO's In Treatment. His role was so strong and his acting was so powerful that I think I will always remember him in it, regardless of Alzheimer's or even amnesia. DeHaan plays Andrew Detmer here and his initial presence did give me that In Treatment vibe, so much so that I figured he was copying what he previously did.
But, Andrew is unlike DeHaan's television character. Andrew is shy. He's a "nerd." He's unpopular and bullied, almost relentlessly so. The screenplay by Max Landis is a little unbearable in this regard. The constant beating and abuse that Andrew suffers is a bit over-the-top. I suppose it's to prepare for what happens at the end of this movie, but it's like a jackhammer the way that Landis is driving this point.
Andrew suffers abuse at home, at the hands of his alcoholic father, but he suffers most of his abuse at school at the hands of jocks and whatnot. As a result, Andrew feels the need to videotape everything that happens to him. The movie is in fact told from this perspective, in the vain of found-footage films like The Blair Witch Project.
Andrew does get rides to school from his cousin, Matt Garetty, played by Alex Russell, an actor who only popped onto the scene two years ago, mainly doing independent films. This is Russell's first major acting role in a studio movie. Russell is quite good, even though it's not much of a stretch for him to play an average teenage kid, but Russell is given some good moments that show him to be a fun-loving, well-rounded person who's somewhat empathetic.
Russell's character of Matt befriends a teen of equal disposition named Steve Montgomery who is in the running to be class president. Michael B. Jordan (Red Tails) plays Steve and has a little bit more acting experience than DeHann and Russell. Jordan has appeared regularly in such series as The Wire, Friday Night Lights and Parenthood. Jordan even had a three-year stint in All My Children, but unlike in that daytime drama, he's in many ways here the comic relief.
But, in terms of Steve and Matt, the screenplay never allows for much more about them. This is in part due to the structure of the movie. It's in the same structure as The Blair Witch Project. By the end, it starts to most resemble Cloverfield, but, because of which, we're only privy to the superficial observations of Andrew's camera. This does keep us in Andrew's P.O.V. and his mind, as to better understand his eventual deconstruction, but it short-changes the two other characters.
What happens is that Andrew, Matt and Steve are exposed to some underground object that is possibly radioactive. All three develop telekinesis as a result. They then spend the next few days and even weeks, practicing their abilities and honing them. Basically, they pull pranks on each other, the kind of juvenile and adolescent pranks that the average teenage boy with telekinesis would pull.
While watching them hone their power and pull pranks is entertaining, this is where the movie stalls. The filmmakers waste too much time in what's essentially a pointless talent show. I suspect that it's supposed to build the relationship between the boys, specifically Andrew and Steve, but, besides saying "Oh my God" a lot and laughing at everything, the boys barely have any real conversations.
Because the movie is so dependent on this Blair Witch Project aesthetic, I imagine that there are conversations and deeper things happening. They're just not happening on camera. There are moments when characters will scream for Andrew who is obsessed with videotaping everything much like Thierry Guetta from Exit Through the Gift Shop to stop videotaping, which Andrew obliges, but it comes at the sacrifice of really seeing into these characters and getting information that we perhaps need to truly connect with the characters.
That would normally be it as far as my review would go, but, at the top I noted how derivative this movie was. Now, I'm going to go through why.
Gary Lockwood (2001: A Space Odyssey) co-starred in the TV series Star Trek (1966) where he and some others played characters that get exposed to radiation and develop telekinesis in the episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before." At one point, Lockwood's character talks about the others as if they were insects. Here, Andrew makes a similar comment.
Sissy Spacek was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Carrie (1976). Based on the novel by Stephen King, the story focuses on a teenage girl who has an abusive parent and who gets bullied in high school before exacting revenge on everyone with her telekinesis.
This movie, particularly the end sequence, feels like it might be a diluted version of Akira (1988). It doesn't have the same scope until the end when all Hell breaks loose, but it gives us a clue of what the live action version of that Japanese manga might entail.
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for intense action, some language, sexual content and teen drinking.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 23 mins.