My Science Project

| February 19, 2016

Nostalgia is a hell of a thing, and a number of home video imprints have been recently reissuing some very unexpected titles on Blu-ray to capitalize on it. This is, for the most part, an almost unmitigated good: the more obscure, oddball films that are available in physical formats, the better. Predictably, not every one of these is going to be a forgotten gem. A film that someone saw last on cable in 1987, for example, may not quite hold up as well when viewed almost 30 years later. In this case, I’m speaking specifically about My Science Project.

Michael Harlan (John Stockwell) is on the verge of failing science, which will keep him from graduating. Science teacher Bob (Dennis Hopper) gives him one more chance: ace the final science project and Harlan passes the class. Desperate to impress Bob, Harlan breaks into a nearby retired air force base with nerdy Ellie (Danielle von Zerneck). There, he stumbles upon the long-forgotten engine from an alien craft that crash-landed in the 1950s. Harlan and his friend Vince Latello (Fisher Stevens) fire it up in the auto shop the next day and an Egyptian vase appears. They soon discover that the engine sucks electrical energy from whatever source is available, and the more power it gets the stronger space-time disruptions occur around it. After the police intervene when Harlan tries to stop the engine from getting energy from the town power plant, things spiral out of control and Ellie is trapped in the school. Can Harlan and Latello save her, or is she destined to be a dinosaur snack?

My Science Project was clearly made to capitalize on the 80s craze of sci-fi teen movies like The Last Starfighter (which was actually written by John Beutel, who wrote and directed this film) and Back to the Future. Looking back on it, the film plays like a cynical cash-in that crudely grafts parts from those films into one story. This would be more excusable if it wasn’t for the film’s lumbering pace–nothing really happens with the alien machine until nearly 50 of the film’s 95 minutes have passed. That’s an awful lot of setup for the film’s finale, which does include some impressively odd imagery and one genuinely impressive dinosaur effect. Unfortunately, it’s a serious case of too little too late, especially when the wide array of characters who are introduced throughout the movie barely have any impact on the plot and all but three disappear by the final act.

It’s also interesting to note that, like a lot of people who were kids watching these movies on cable in the 1980s, how badly so much of the film has aged. It’s not a problem with the special effects or the music (which includes a theme song by The Tubes), but its attitudes toward any non-WASP characters. Stevens plays Latello as an embarrassingly broad Italian stereotype, and his dialogue is peppered with slurs. In a world where Shane Carruth’s Primer got an “R” rating for one instance of just one, it’s almost impossible to believe Latello is in a “PG” movie. As a snapshot of a different time, My Science Project may hold some interest. As far as being any kind of entertainment otherwise, though, you could find a whole lot better with very little effort.

Mill Creek Entertainment released My Science Project on Blu-ray on 16 February 2016. There are no special features on the disc.

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium: www.medium.com/@rabbitroom
Filed in: Film, Video and DVD
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