Release Date: April 17th
Box Office: $18,532,286
So the “Boy Pals with a…” type of film was always popular but thanks to E.T. (1982) it practically became a genre of itself. In the years following we’d have Boy Pals With a Spaceship, with various animals, even with a with a Dirt Bike. It was a matter of time before we got to Boy Pals with Ape.
Alright, with Project X (1987) we’re probably stretching ‘boy’ a fair bit as the boy on question is a fresh faced Matthew Broderick who since nearly causing a nuclear holocaust has become an airman who is a attached to a military project involving apes.
Enter Helen Hunt who has trained a group of apes to communicate with sign language, as you do. This is taken over by a military project that wants to use the apes to pilot flight simulators then dose them with radiation because this is the Cold War and that might happen to our boys and that.
You could argue that it’s a borderline prequel to the Planet of The Apes franchise but it doesn’t have anywhere near the kind of darkness those films have at their core. No, this is a much lighter take on the evil military experimenting on stuff sub-genre despite apes dying of radiation poisoning.
This might be because Matthew Broderick in the lead role is just so fresh faced. This film is still in the afterglow of Ferris Bueler’s Day Off (1986) which means that Broderick is still the teen idol of millions of people. His character here doesn’t have any of the snark of Bueler, he’s essentially a good dude stuck in a bad position. That position being on the side of experimenting on animals.
On that other side is Helen Hunt, still transitioning away from being a Child actor and years before Mad About You made her a proper household name. You can’t really fault them as an on screen couple despite the thin characters they’re working with.
Of course it all comes good in the end and the program gets it comeuppance and the apes all end up happy somewhere after flying a plane to escape.
It is a kind of weird companion piece to WarGames (1983) in that again it’s about the military trying to find ways to win the Cold War that might not be exactly the best. The same writer was behind both films and would later work on Sneakers (1992), forming a weird loose trilogy about military projects going awry.
It’s daft, but a nice cosy level of daft. It’s from that era where it wouldn’t be a huge hit at the box office but it would find a niche in that bit of the video shop between the kids section and the proper grown up films. Project X would sit there on the shelf, Broderick’s smile beaming down at you, and wouldn’t be the worst film you’d pick up. Sure, it would be far from the best but you can’t always rent out the same film every week.