starring Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Dax Flame
screenplay by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall
directed by Nima Nourizadeh
by Angelo Muredda With Bridesmaids, Judd Apatow made the case for the producer as auteur--a spiritual godparent to screenwriters' Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo's every deferred comedic beat. It's only taken one try--the perfunctorily- titled, written, and staged Project X--but Todd Philips can now claim the same, to everyone's great detriment. Late in the game, protagonist Thomas's dad surveys the wreckage of his vanilla son's soiree and says, with something like pride, "I didn't think you had it in you." It's a callback to the strained thematic machinations of The Hangover Part II, where straight-laced Stu (Ed Helms) recognizes he has a "demon" in him, and if that makes him a horrible spouse, then so be it. While Project X is suffused with the same deep misogyny and awe before Dionysian dickishness as its producer's directorial work, it's also a testament to Helms's grounded performance as those films' mild-mannered demon-in-wait--and proof of how unsustainable Philips's poisonous alchemy is in the hands of the truly useless. That would be first-time director Nima Nourizadeh, who has no instinct for narrative, characterization, or composition, and whose licentious camera unfailingly roves up the skirt of every 18-year-old extra lassoed in what the press notes eerily call a "nationwide talent search." Woe and hilarious Taser gags to anyone who searches for talent here.