A clever, funny and very skillful thriller about how a kid builds his own atomic bomb. This isn't really a teenage movie at all, it's a thriller. And it's one of those thrillers that stays as close as possible to the everyday lives of convincing people, so that the movie's frightening aspects are convincing.
This exciting, if conventional, teen thriller effectively makes its points about the dangers of the nuclear age. It features a fine performance from Lithgow as the brilliant yet troubled scientist, and writer-director Marshall Brickman does a nice job of emphasizing human values.
When Collet is interacting with other kids or with his girlfriend and partner-in-crime Jenny (Cynthia Nixon, who played Mozart's maid in Amadeus), The Manhattan Project is a witty, enjoyable teen-age movie. But when, laughs and all, it is addressing the nuclear perils -- timely as the topic might be in the aftermath of Chernobyl -- the project dries up under the spell of sophisticated visual values, glossy props and sexy laser lights. [13 June 1986, p.D3]
Mr. Brickman, who directed the film and wrote the screenplay (with Thomas Baum), has a real gift for eccentric comedy and characters. The Manhattan Project, with its vaguely populist leanings, isn't crazy enough. Mr. Brickman fails to make big issues comprehensible. He just makes them small.
A low-key, high-tech, out-of-touch tale of a teen who builds his own personal nuclear projectile for a science project. It's an ambivalent adventure patterned on the likes of WarGames, but without the humor or action. [13 June 1986, p.29]