PROJECT X It's no Can't Hardly Wait. But then, what is? (Besides Can't Hardly Wait, obvs.)

IS THERE ANYTHING that more perfectly summarizes the clumsy bravado of a teenaged boy's sense of humor than a midget joke? Adults don't think midget jokes are funny. (Or, okay: Adults who aren't total assholes don't think midget jokes are funny.) The midget gag in Project X involves a midget being shoved into an oven by three hulking jocks, then bursting out to angrily sucker punch everyone in his vicinity in the balls. (Did that make you laugh? That was a test.)

It's one of more than a few moments where the humor in Project X reveals a mean-spirited undercurrent. Any movie in which a small dog is tied to a bunch of balloons and floated into the air to the general amusement of everyone in the scene immediately relinquishes the right to ask the audience to care about its characters, because they are complete and obvious pieces of total shit.

Thomas (Thomas Mann), Costa (Oliver Cooper), and JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown) are the only three physically imperfect people in their high school. When Thomas' parents leave for the weekend ("Thomas, stay out of the study," says Thomas' dad. "Thomas, don't touch my car." FORESHADOWING!), their American Apparel-ad classmates show up in droves—along with a local college baseball star and his party bus, and a former classmate who's now a Playboy model. Role models, these are called.

Project X is a Blair Witch-style faux documentary; blotter-thin excuses are dredged for how this whole party is caught on film ("Pool cam!"), but allegiance to the found footage aesthetic is cheerfully scrapped any time it becomes necessary to depict topless girls bouncing on a bouncy castle in slow-mo. (Director Nima Nourizadeh is clearly driven by an artistic vision of the utmost urgency.)

Despite a promotional campaign that insists on the outrageous nature of the party these three losers throw, it boils down to an all-American recipe of chemicals swallowed in various formats and wasted kids having sloppy sex. That formula hasn't been improved since Can't Hardly Wait—for all its desperate straining for edginess, Project X doesn't come close.