Super powers are wasted on the young.
Andrew Detmer's life is miserable. He's an outcast at school. His mother is bedridden with pulmonary disease. And his father — stepfather? I was never sure — is an alcoholic who does little but collect dust and disability payments, except for when he takes time out of his busy schedule to slap Andrew around.
That's the poverty-row setup for "Chronicle," the first feature film for both director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis (son of director John Landis).
As if looking to make himself even more of a social pariah, Andrew starts "recording everything" with his new video camera. Why? He never says. Certainly not to have evidence against his abusive dad, even though Andrew captures plenty.
Is Andrew just a narcissist in spite of his crippling shyness? That would explain some of what follows.
One day Andrew (Dane DeHaan), his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and Matt's friend, the super-popular Steve (Michael B. Jordan), stumble across a pulsating, crystalline object of presumably extraterrestrial origin and — presto! — all discover they've developed super powers.
From there, our newborn superheroes use their superhuman abilities to make life better for everyone, especially for poor, miserable Andrew and his family.
Stop. That must be a different movie, because that's the opposite of what happens. Even the obvious thought of going to Las Vegas and using their telekinetic powers to strike it rich at the roulette tables, so Andrew can afford the medicine that keeps his mom alive, is beyond our three geniuses.
Instead they practice their abilities by playing practical jokes and, after they get the hang of flying, tossing a football around at (at least) 6,000 feet.
Even Spider-Man tried to profit from his powers before Uncle Ben guilt got the better of him.
We see all of this through Andrew's camera and the cameras of others.
Yes, this is another "found footage" movie, and this time the gimmick doesn't appear to serve any purpose except to provide an in-story excuse for the movie's lo-fi look. "Chronicle" has a modest $12 million budget, and most of it seems to have gone into the grand finale — an old-fashioned superhero smack down at the site of Seattle's Space Needle.
It's not giving away much to say that one of our three super-powered protagonists eventually starts to go bad and must be stopped. Hint: It's probably the one who behaves like a sociopath long before he reaches his Columbine moment.
Before that, though, we watch as Steve helps Andrew use his powers to become popular while Matt goes off on an unnecessary subplot to win the affection of Casey (Ashley Hinshaw), a classmate who, coincidentally, is also recording everything on video — "for her blog," she says.
There might be an interesting movie here somewhere about people who feel compelled to constantly film and take pictures of themselves, but as an undercurrent to a movie about kids who have never heard that "with great power comes great responsibility," it gets lost.
On the flip side, the story of how having super powers changes — or doesn't — the lives of Andrew, Matt and Steve gets equally lost by having to compete with the found-footage approach to the material.
There is no reason "Chronicle" couldn't have been shot as a conventional movie. That "Chronicle" wants to be the latest heir to the checkered legacy of "Blair Witch" and "Cloverfield" only makes the exercise almost as frustrating as Andrew's home life.