Project Almanac starts as a typical bantering teen trifle, but it gets heavy quickly. "You finished with those couplers yet?" the young amigos (Jonny Weston, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista) are soon barking at one another.
They're science geeks with a slightly hipper attitude, like the dudes from The Big Bang Theory but with better complexions and music. And down in Weston's basement, they're building a backpack time machine with schematics left by his late father.
Most of their ideas about time travel come not from theoretical physicists but from movies like Time Cop, Looper, and Terminator. The plot, however, leans more heavily on Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.
"You have to kill Hitler," says Lerner. "That's like Time Travel 101."
What would you do if you could hopscotch through the last decade? These guys elect to go back to last summer's Lollapalooza in Chicago's Grant Park.
This time-travel stuff has all kinds of perks, yo! Suddenly they're on stage with Imagine Dragons and dancing with the lead singer from Atlas Genius. And the school hottie (Sofia Black-D'Elia), who previously wouldn't look at them, is smitten with Weston.
The ecstatic trip to the music festival is also where Project Almanac starts going off the rails. The film's carefully established home-video mode is shattered. You're seeing footage that no hand-held camera could get and hearing distant dialogue you'd need a directional microphone to pick up.
The premise, which initially has a certain interior logic, grows implausible and then nonsensical. For instance, time starts to buckle and split when one of them breaks their pact to always jump together, in order to go on a solo mission. Wait, wouldn't a group of people stomping around in the past create far more havoc than one moonstruck teen?
And shouldn't someone with a scholarship to MIT know that two versions of a person can't coexist in the same place at the same time? That's like Time Travel 102.
The problem with this tech fantasy is that you can clearly see where it's headed a half-hour before it arrives. So when the ending does come, you're left with your own sense of deja vu. Heavy!
Project Almanac ** (out of four stars)
Directed by Dean Israelite. With Jonny Weston, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, Sofia Black-D'Elia. Distributed by Paramount Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 46 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (language, sexual content).
Playing at: area theaters.