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Here's my problem with the party-gone-wild movie Project X: someone took a perfectly good black comedy and grafted it onto an '80s-style fairy tale. Think, I dunno, Heathers mashed up with Risky Business. Or a ravenous, rabid Bengal tiger with the head of a cuddly-wuddly kitten. Just when you think you've glimpsed the heart of darkness that comes of trying to become popular by whoring yourself out, the cartoon sun comes up, the crowd cheers, and...well, I don't want to give too much away.

So, getting back to that bit about whoring yourself out. It's Thomas's 17th birthday, see, and he wants to be popular. Or rather, his friend Castro wants him to be popular. So Castro cajoles Thomas into throwing a party while his parents are away. Because inviting an entire town to come and have their way with your parents' posh Pasadena house is a sure way to win the public's love. In fact, the more you let them degrade the place, the better they will like you. That is just how people work. Hey, remember that time you let me drive your dad's Mercedes into the pool? That's when I knew you were a cool person. Let's hang out. Basically, Castro is the pimp, Thomas is the pliant whore, and everybody respects him in the morning.

Well, that's not entirely fair. Thomas isn't completely pliant, and his various attempts to put a bridle on the stampeding elephant that is his birthday party are what make the proceedings wickedly delicious. Sure, there are lots of lowbrow gags to be mined from the crazy-party setup - a guy sniffing a dildo belonging to Thomas's mom, a little person cockpunching his way through a terrified crowd, a dog having its way with an unconscious fellow's face. But the film's piquancy comes from Thomas's gradually increasing sense of panic and desperation. In crisis moment after crisis moment, something happens to derail his sad efforts at putting the genie back in the bottle, until finally, he winds up on the roof of his own house, looking down at the bacchanal below and asking Costa, "Is this big enough to be cool?"

It's a great line, and Thomas Mann (who plays Thomas) delivers it with a fine sense of ambiguity. On one level, it's the sincere question of the unpopular kid: have I finally made it into the in-crowd by sheer force of numbers? On another, it's the bitter rhetoric of the dupe who realizes he's been chasing a phantom. Are you satisfied, Costa? You've ruined my life. Are we "cool" now?

What follows after is practically apocalyptic. (If you've seen the trailers, you know about the flamethrower and the confrontation with the police.) But then, that cartoon sun comes up, and suddenly, Thomas is telling his dad that the night was totally awesome. Who are we gonna believe, him or our lying eyes?


Reader rating: one star.

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Colonna March 3, 2012 @ 2:49 p.m.

Michael Sullivan, film critic of the Washington Post, might have said it best:

"It’s the longest Facebook video posting you’ve ever sat through."


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