Project Power review – Netflix superhero drama is generic and forgettable

Dominique Fishback is excellent in a film that otherwise fails to stand out in a very crowded genre

In a summer devoid of big action blockbusters at the cinema, Netflix has been perfectly poised to deliver the kind of epic bombast that audiences have been missing in 2020. John Wick-esque shoot-em-up Extraction was an enormous hit, and the fantasy/sci-fi stylings of The Old Guard proved to be surprisingly progressive and evocative. Now, they move in to the superhero game with Project Power, an intermittently entertaining but mostly half-baked combination of Limitless and Amazon TV’s The Boys.

With some unfortunate echoes of the horrible Bright, Project Power brings the supernatural to a gritty urban environment, as a new street drug takes hold of New Orleans. Shady forces have developed pills that give you superpowers, and dealers are making money hand over fist as criminals give themselves a new edge on the streets. There is a catch, though, which is that the power is random, and only lasts five minutes.

It’s a neat premise, though the plot that’s folded into it is uninspired. Roguish cop Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) starts to uncover a government-level conspiracy involving the pills, and so teams up with ex-soldier Art (Jamie Foxx) to expose the masterminds behind it and save Art’s daughter in the process. Foxx and Gordon-Levitt might be the big names here – and Foxx in particular is a charismatic presence – but the real star is Dominique Fishback, more than holding her own opposite these established stars.

A highlight in recent David Simon TV projects, Fishback is superb as Robin, the cocky, capable kid who proves herself an invaluable ally to Frank and Art. She grounds her scenes with a depth and humanity that’s lacking elsewhere, helping to balance the muddled tone that veers between serious and snarky all too often.

Project Power’s story requires a lot of setup, so the pace of the first half is sluggish, and the expository dialogue feels almost as work-in-progress as the hilariously generic title. There are some fun moments once it gets going, and Foxx and Fishback do their best to keep you invested, but an underdeveloped world and woeful villains make the bulk of the film utterly forgettable.

Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman try and inject some style and atmosphere into proceedings, and while there is one great set-piece at a swanky underground drug deal, the action is rarely as imaginative as it should be. A few of the more grotesque powers – stretchy limbs, growing to monstrous size etc – get used in visceral, original ways, but most just add filters to unremarkable shootouts and fistfights.

We’ve seen fire and super-strength in countless other superhero movies, and Project Power lacks the budget to do anything fresh with these more familiar abilities. Joost and Schulman also fail to fully capitalise on their setting – New Orleans is one of America’s most distinctive cities but, aside from a couple of throwaway lines about Hurricane Katrina, there’s very little sense of place.

As a vehicle for its three leads, Project Power is mostly successful, and should push Dominique Fishback into being a real star, but as a crime thriller or superhero actioner it lacks punch and wit. The superhero genre is hardly crying out for new entries, and Project Power simply doesn’t do enough to stand out, or even particularly justify its existence.

Project Power is streaming on Netflix from August 14

Where to watch

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