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Time travel movies live and die by how well they adhere to their own rules. "Project Almanac" plays fast and loose with its time travel premise, and as such, it falls apart when it should be revving up.

David Raskin (Jonny Weston) is an MIT-bound high school student who finds a videotape of his 7th birthday party and notices something strange in the background of one of the shots: himself, present day.

This leads to him discovering the blueprints for a time machine his late father left behind. He and his friends experiment with it and eventually crack the code, jumping back in time to ace pop quizzes in science class and the like. They up the ante and win the lotto, and then head to that Lollapalooza they all missed. But when David starts messing with time and space to get the popular girl (Sofia Black-D'Elia) to like him, the ripple effects begin disrupting the world.

"Project Almanac" gets several things right. The teens feel like real teens, and of course they'd go to music festivals, buy Maseratis, hook up food trucks for their friends and use time travel to pump up their Instagram followers. It also is smart enough to reference its predecessors, such as "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure," "The Terminator," "Timecop" and "Doctor Who." (At one point, one of the characters uses "Groundhog Day" as a verb.)

But when things get heavy, the movie gets shaky. (They're actually shaky throughout, given its needless "found footage" aesthetic and the tiresome shaky cam visual style that comes with the territory.) We all understand the butterfly effect, but "Project Almanac" never quite explains how or why two characters falling in love results in planes dropping from the sky. Lesson learned: time travel is difficult, but making it work on screen is even harder.

agraham@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/grahamorama

'Project Almanac'

GRADE: C

Rated PG-13: For some language and sexual content

Running time: 106 minutes

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