Jamie Foxx is in a new movie about superpowered pills, each one very…unpredictable. (Where my R&B Jamie fans at?)
Project Power is a straight to Netflix superhero movie directed by Ariel Schuman and Henry Joost. It stars newcomer Dominique Fishback, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Jamie Foxx as a former soldier named Art Reilly, who gets caught up with a drug dealer and a rogue cop navigating a drug ring that distributes a superpowered drug called Project Power. The pill gives the user one random superpower for 5 minutes…or just blows them up. The movie also stars rapper Chika, who wrote all the freestyles performed by Fishback’s character Robin, a dealer of Project Power trying to make a better life for her family with her music. Set in New Orleans backdrop complete with blue bikes and Saints references, the trio works together to infiltrate the company behind the superpowered pill.
A street-level drug that can turn the user bulletproof, invisible, or flammable is a fresh way to integrate a fantasy element into a cop procedural without going overboard (here’s looking at you, Bright). Jamie Foxx has shown his range in action roles over the past two decades (Jarhead, Django, Baby Driver), so him jumping into the shoes of a jaded army vet looking for his daughter seemed to be no problem for him. It’s not very often that we get to see a Black army vet as the main character in a movie, and it gives another layer of commentary about the military as an institution. In a 2019 survey by the Military Times and Syracuse University, more than half of people of colour serving in uniform said they had personally witnessed white nationalism or racism in the military. Seeing Foxx’s character use the skills he learned from the system to help him find his family was endearing; it helped smooth out his rough exterior.
Dominique Fishback shines as Robin; a struggling high school student turned drug dealer with dreams to be a famous rapper. She’s not your typical stone-faced, slick-talking dealer; we see a wide range of emotions from the young girl. She gets anxious when put on the spot at school, she can hold her own in a fight, and she shows genuine fear when the situation goes way past her control. She’s a young Black girl making the best out of a bad situation.
I liked how the movie kept the crime genre fresh. The same beats we see in the usual cop procedural, like Levitt’s character Frank turning in his badge, then going rogue, get flipped and presented in a different order than usual. He gives a solid performance as a conflicted man who sees the corruption in his profession and uses some less than favourable methods to get to the root of the drug ring. His scenes with Fishback are stressful to watch, as a Black girl working with a cop on an undercover case is begging for disaster. Frank’s a cop that uses Power (that he got off a kid) to catch suspects who use Power, and his journey throughout the grey areas of the law made me fearful of Robin’s safety with each interaction.
The chemistry between Foxx and Fishback flows throughout the film, except for their initial meetup, which had a questionable level of intensity. Their bond gives very much student/mentor vibes, and they share a special dialogue about being black in America from two different generational perspectives. Robin challenges Art’s more conservative views on coming up in the world, and Art supports Robin’s dream to pursue music as a viable career path. If only all Gen X/Gen Z convos were this peaceful.
Upping the ante with the crime bosses by giving them superpowers gives us something more interesting to look at during the action scenes than your run of the mill shootout. This was much needed because the villains were pretty middle of the road in this film. Machine Gun Kelly’s Newt was giving paint-by-numbers side villain, and whenever he was on screen, you find yourself counting down the minutes until Jamie or Joseph capped him. Rodrigo Santoro, as Biggie did what was needed in the evil scientist role, a sweet cocktail of intelligent and creepy, and Amy Landecker as Gardner holds water as the movie’s big bad. Having arguably the most poignant lines in the film saves her performance from being forgettable.
The special effects are impressive throughout the movie. The grab bag of superpowers on display was fun to watch. Some parts felt like an X-Men movie, where you see a one-note villain with a cool power do their thing before they eventually get disposed of. Unfortunately, we didn’t see more powers being utilized. Popping multiple pills to get a bunch of powers at once? Maybe they’re saving that for the sequel.
Project Power is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise wasteland of Summer blockbusters thanks to the real-life disaster movie we’re all living in. It’s a new spin on superhero and police movies that stars three charismatic leads, as well as the perfect vehicle for an up and coming Black actress. This movie has trilogy energy. I definitely want to see Schulman and Joost explore this world more in the future. If you’re stuck at home and need a good popcorn flick to pass the time with your quarantine gang, Pop into Project Power and enjoy the trip.