The concept of high school kids throwing a crazy party when their parents are out of town is nothing remotely new, so it falls on the screenwriters and the director to do something that will help the movie rise above the mundane and stand out.

To say that first-time director Nima Nourizadeh doesn’t hold anything back in Project X is one of the most egregious understatements since “Houston, we have a problem.” A gaggle of naked girls treading water in a backyard pool, high-schoolers jumping from their roof onto a bouncy castle, and a dog tied, Up-style, to an oversized bouquet of helium balloons are a few of the more tame goings-on at this particular party.

With his parents out of town for the weekend, Thomas (Thomas Mann) is talked into throwing an epic 17th birthday shin-dig by his jackass best friend Costa (Oliver Cooper). By the power of social media, a polite soiree for 50 (“at the most!” naively insists Thomas) spirals out of control. Before long the crowd has topped a thousand, ecstasy’s being popped like Tic-Tacs, and, oh yeah, there’s a really angry midget (er, ‘little person’?) in the oven.

Despite all that, Project X feels like just another ‘teen party movie’ most of the time. It’s not really a comedy, because there aren’t very many laugh-out-loud moments; and it’s obviously not a drama either. Instead, it comes off as a not much more than an excuse for you to just sit back and watch insanity unfold.

And then we get to the last half-hour.

The word ‘epic’ gets thrown around a lot these days, but it actually fits for the finale of Project X, when, all of a sudden, the $80,000 car in the pool becomes the least of Thomas’ problems. Just like that, Project X goes from pedestrian to having quite a pulse.

Why, then, Nourizadeh made the tired choice of shooting Project X as yet another ‘found-footage’ flick is a bit of a head-scratcher—it doesn’t offer anything (except the requisite shakiness) to the festivities. And it’s particularly disappointing since he’s shown his talent directing nifty music videos for the likes of Lily Allen and Santogold.

The screenplay by Michael Bacall and Matt Drake is pretty much non-existent—this is one of those times where it’s obvious the actors were given a general story line and then told to go at it—though it’s frankly a shame that Bacall and Drake went to the well of misogyny and exploitation so often here; they could have very easily risen above that.

As for the actors, producer Todd Phillips (The Hangover) held an open casting call to hire kids with little or no prior experience, and it actually pays off here. Mann and Cooper, along with Jonathan Daniel Brown as third musketeer J.B., all turn in solid work—particularly Cooper, who is either among the more promising talents today or a genuine first-rate schmuck in real life. Hopefully not the latter.

In the end, Project X doesn’t have quite enough going for it to match Superbad’s ‘instant classic’ status, but for one crazy night, it’s actually a pretty decent ride.

3/5 stars