Published Aug 15, 2020"Cops getting illegal drugs off the street" isn't a particularly compelling elevator pitch in 2020, in light of widespread calls to defund the police and an ever-growing awareness of the ineffectiveness of the war on drugs. Still, Project Power manages to at least somewhat overcome its un-timely release with a story that blends supernatural action with inner-city drama.
Power is the name of a new drug that's circulating through the streets of New Orleans. Whoever takes it experiences superpowers for five minutes, with the twist being that everyone gets a different power. Some people become ultra-flexible or grow into giants, while others burst into flames or simply explode into a puddle of blood.
Dominique Fishback plays Robin, a bright high school student who resorts to dealing Power to help support her ailing mother. She deals to Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cop who's trying to track the source of Power while also using the drug on the sly. He becomes bulletproof, which proves to be handy in a gunfight, and the sketchiness of him buying drugs from a teen isn't explored in the slightest. Onto the scene comes Art (Jamie Foxx), who's initially a suspect but then turns out to be on a similar hunt for the mysterious supplier.
The depiction of urban struggle is compelling — particularly witnessed through the eyes of Robin, a bright teenager who's falling through the cracks as her teachers fail her and corrupt businesses treat her life as disposable. Her bond with Art is perhaps a little hard to fully buy into, given that they meet when he abducts her and throws her in a trunk, but their struggle against corrupt elites feels grounded in reality, even when the premise is fantastical.
Project Power is less successful as a superhero movie. The characters' powers are underdeveloped and under-utilized — as soon as someone takes a pill and we see what their superpower is, the novelty is instantly gone and we're on to the next character. And the film suffers from not having a clear villain; the hunt for the supplier leads them from mistaken identities to shadowy underworld figures, with nothing much to discern one baddie from the next.
Gritty drama just might be this film's superpower. An action thriller about the hunt for a crime boss? Not so much. (Netflix)