In the minor subgenre of high-school-party-when-
parents-are-away comedies, “Project X” is slightly better than average, in a small way or so. Co-writers Michael Bacall (a co-writer of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) and Matt Drake (a co-writer of “Tully”) put all the clichés in play, yet first-time director Nima Nourizadeh is indifferent. He just wants to party hard by proxy: “We had fun making it, we want people to have fun watching it.” Mom and dad depart to celebrate their anniversary, leaving son Thomas (Thomas Mann) to celebrate his seventeenth birthday with $40 to order pizza. He can invite “four or five friends, tops.” Fifteen hundred turn up. A designated classmate in a black trench coat shoots video of all this, with pick-up shots captured on cell phones and other lo-fi devices. A forcibly intoxicated fox terrier humps the face of a passed-out partygoer. Upset about getting shoved into the oven, “Angry Little Person” drives a Mercedes into the swimming pool. To recover his stolen gnome, a Santa figurine giving the finger and hiding an ecstasy stash, a dealer brings his flamethrower. Southern California’s ultimate validation: Live shots from hovering TV helicopters bless the chaos below. Producers of the two “The Hangover” films, and the editor of a dozen “Entourage” episodes deal with high-school characters cast via a website that stipulated: “MUST BE LEGAL 18 & ABLE TO PLAY 18 YEARS OLD.” Executive producer Joel Silver hypes: “Yes, it is a narrative movie, but we wanted to make it feel like something nobody had seen before.” It’s a “totally unique point of view,” claims Ken Seng, the cinematographer who handed out Flip cameras to extras and hired camera operators from “Paranormal Activity 3,” “Quarantine” and “Project Greenlight 3.” He, or whoever wrote his quotes for the press kit, never heard of “The Blair Witch Project,” “Cloverfield” or “Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That!” “Project X” is almost a chance to see a cynical ethnography of drunk, drugged suburban teens. Overprivileged Thomas makes a spectacular sacrifice of property to earn peer applause. (If only National Geographic had assigned novelist Dennis Cooper and photographer Lauren Greenfield!) An undergrad taking “Anthropology of Adolescents 101” won’t get away with footnoting “Project X” as faux reportage by the natives of North Pasadena. With Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Dax Flame, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Alexis Knapp, Rick Shapiro, Brady Hender, Nick Nervies, Martin Klebba. 88m. (Bill Stamets)
“Project X” opens today.