PROJECT ALMANAC

Producer: Michael Bay, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller 
Director: David Israelite 
Writer:  Jason Harry Pagan and Andrew Deutschman
Stars:  Jonny Weston, Sofia Black-D'Elia, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, Ginny Gardner, Amy Landecker, Gary Weeks and Gary Grubbs
Studio:  Paramount Pictures

D

One might have thought that the overused found footage technique had reached its nadir with the abysmal “Earth to Echo,” but one should never underestimate the capacity of Michael Bay to take us to new depths. He produced this visually hysterical, narratively nonsensical time-travel cheapie that also betrays its MTV connections in an ear-splitting soundtrack and the pride of place given to the Lollapalooza music festival.

The main characters in the dumb script by Jason Harry Pagan and Andrew Deutschman are a trio of high-school science nerds—David Raskin (Jonny Weston) and his best buds Adam (Allen Evangelista) and Quinn (Sam Lerner). David dreams of getting into MIT, and the story opens with his sister Chris (Ginny Gardner) filming his photo essay for submission to the school—a demonstration of a hand-controlled drone he’s invented. But the conceit is that Chris goes on filming everything else, too, including David’s search through their house’s attic for some great idea left behind by their late father (also a techno-genius) that might become the basis for a scholarship-worthy project. What they find is the old man’s video camera, which still contains footage of David and his dad at the boy’s seventh birthday party—the very day that the man died. And what that footage reveals is shocking: the present-day David can be glimpsed skulking about in the background.

How could that be? It turns out that Raskin père had been working on a “temporal displacement” machine, the prototype of which—along with blueprints to finish the device—are discovered by David in a secret cubicle beneath the floor of his father’s basement workshop (apparently left untouched for a decade or so). Naturally he, Adam and Quinn undertake to complete the project, their efforts documented by Chris. And joining their work by accident is Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia), the pretty girl David has always been infatuated with from afar but has always seemed unapproachable.

Much of the first part of the movie is devoted to the crew working on the machine, but once the device is operational they apply it only to important matters—like winning the lottery and using the funds to get friends on campus. But David also arranges a trip back in time to Lollapalooza where he can romance Jessie. Unfortunately, that escapade doesn’t work out exactly as planned due to his ineptitude, and so he breaks the rules of usage he’s carefully formulated for him and his friends by jumping back to Grant Park again, this time alone, in order to manipulate events to his own benefit. In fact, though that wins over Jessie, his ever-more-frequent solo forays have the inevitable “butterfly effect,” changing reality in tragic ways. And in the end David will have to choose between living with the world his attempts to control things have wrought or going back to the past and erasing all the alterations his temporal journeys have caused.

As far as time-travel sci-fi is concerned, this isn’t a terribly innovative plot, but it might have afforded some modest pleasure if the characters weren’t such a bunch of irritatingly self-absorbed numbskulls. Lerner’s Quinn is the most unattractive of the group, but though Weston is a reasonably likable actor, he can’t do much with David’s turn to the dark side in the latter reels of the story, to which he can only bring a generalized sense of desperation. Evangelista seems to be channeling Aaron Yoo from “Disturbia,” and Black-D’Elia and Gardner are mostly decorative feminine additions to the crew.

Worse, the movie looks perfectly hideous, with the same sort of muddily hyperactive hand-held camerawork and washed-out images (by Matthew Lloyd) and whiplash editing (by Julian Clarke and Martin Bernfeld) that characterize these found-footage monstrosities. Even the Chicago skyline in the Grant Park sequence is made to look ugly, and of course the constant movement is likely to bring on nausea, headache or both. The effects, such as they are, are of Saturday-morning TV quality, and the background music is noisy and unremitting. This is director Dean Israelite’s first feature, and frankly his inexperience—and overdependence on inferior models—is evident from frame one.

At the end of “Project Almanac,” David burns his father’s time-machine blueprints. They should have burnt the movie instead.