June 15, 1987 12:00 PM

In the beginning there was E.T. and it begat many lesser sci-fi brethren—all with the same story. First, there is a secret, then an engaging young man accidentally discovers the secret and then the military-industrial complex tries to hush up the truth, terrible or otherwise. In the case of this Matthew Broderick comedy, the secret involves the effects of radiation on laboratory chimpanzees. That’s a slightly hairy, hoary variation on the theme, but this is still another young-idealist-saves-the-world-from-itself adventure. So as a public service we offer the following guide on how to differentiate Project X from its many predecessors. In WarGames, Broderick looked less bored and more boyish. There is no cute and cuddly robot, as in Short Circuit. There is no mermaid, as in Splash. Come to think of it, this movie could use a robot and a mermaid. Some such monkey business could camouflage the familiarity in Stanley Weiser’s secondhand script. Director Jonathan (Heart Like a Wheel) Kaplan, however, is a tedious moralizer. He likes to photograph the doomed animals in slow motion as they shoot accusatory looks at their tormentors. Broderick, too intelligent an actor to be charmed by these proceedings, looks embarrassed. Despite him and the other primates, Project X is really an exercise in movie de-evolution. (PG)

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