At this point, there have been so many Ryan Reynolds movies that it’s hard to keep track. It is harder because Reynolds has been playing a version of the same character since “Deadpool (2016),” a shtick which is unfunny in Deadpool itself and has produced diminishing returns. Directed by Shawn Levy, who also directed Reynolds in “Free Guy (2021),” “The Adam Project” feels very much like a pitch meeting brought back to life. Take “The Last Starfighter” (1984) and “Back to the Future (1985)” and mix them with a healthy dose of father-son relationship angst, a trademark of Levy’s films at this point, and what you have is “The Adam Project.”
The movie follows 12-year-old Adam Reed, who discovers one night while walking with his dog, a stranger in his dad’s old outhouse. It is revealed that the stranger is Adam himself, played by Ryan Reynolds with all his tired sarcasm, from the future. He is stranded in 2022 by mistake, planning to go back to 2018, and it is all related to The Adam Project, a device responsible for time travel. It was, unknowingly, created by Adam’s father, but now both the Adams must return to 2018 to escape the bad guys, who are from the future, following them in pursuit of preserving the timeline in the process.
Like most modern blockbusters, “The Adam Project” is a visual effects-heavy extravaganza. The action scenes, especially the moments of close-quarters combat, are well shot and cleanly edited. The stunt work, too, is admirable and expertly done. The story, like most blockbusters, is ensured by the viewer’s being distracted enough by the events occurring on-screen to pay little attention to the contrivances. It all feels very much a product of something we have seen before, a hodgepodge of Amblin with MCU snark, but what works here, surprisingly, are the moments of sincerity.
Levy’s decision to cast Reynolds as the linchpin ensures that the characters in his immediate association—the younger version of Adam, as well as Adam’s father—spotlight similar characteristics. Ruffalo is game in that regard. His genial humor, with the harried look of the university professor, goes well with the snarky humor very much familiar with Reynolds’ oeuvre. Walker Scobell, as the younger Adam, on the other hand, takes some time to get into the groove of this humorous delivery. At times, he comes off as a prick, but his interactions with Reynolds slowly soften the viewers’ judgments on him. The backstory of his character’s angst related to the death of his father is also a predictable one, but it works. Here, it is Reynolds who surprises. Levy is really good at delving deep into emotional truths and extracting them via heartfelt dialogues. Reynolds’ interactions with Scobell, Ruffalo, and (even) Garner remind you of his talents as an actor and how much he is over-reliant on the shtick. When he allows himself to play with that acting gear, he is really compelling to watch.
On the other hand, the plot of “The Adam Project” is a typical science fiction adventure story, oscillating between extremely high stakes and as low stakes as possible. The use of light-hearted dance music on action sequences brings to light the tongue-in-cheek nature of the movie itself – “Enjoy the ride; don’t think too much about it” – to some true extent. While the time travel is really simple and characters knowingly reference pop culture’s previous entanglements with the concept, the movie’s light-hearted nature just doesn’t elevate it beyond standard popcorn fare.
The visuals are great; Zoe Saldana, in her limited role, really excels. There is a moment when Saldana is threatened. We see her emotions flit from worry to happiness to resignation to sadness to fear of dying-all in a matter of seconds. In a movie starring Catherine Keener hamming it up as a mustache-twirling villain, Saldana’s nuanced acting really steals the show.
“The Adam Project” is a pleasant surprise of a movie, which you can play in the background while doing chores around the house. And lest you think I am too harsh on it, it is far better than most of the movies Netflix pedals out as light-hearted fare nowadays. It has a lot more heart than most CGI-heavy blockbusters nowadays, and that’s no small feat.