A film review by Craig J. Koban March 20, 2022

THE ADAM PROJECT jj
  

2022, PG-13, 106 mins.

Ryan Reynolds as Big Adam  /  Walker Scobell as Young Adam  /  Zoe Saldana as Laura /  Mark Ruffalo as Louis  /  Reed  /  Jennifer Garner as Ellie  /  Catherine Keener as Sorien

Directed by Shawn Levy  /  Written by Jonathan Tropper, T.S. Nowlin, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin

ORIGINAL FILM

Netflix's new science fiction action comedy THE ADAM PROJECT plays like LOOPER for dummies.  Both films involve fantastical scenarios involving older men in the distant future utilizing time travel (in one form or another) to journey back several decades to confront their younger selves, leading to all sorts of complications.  

The main issue with THE ADAM PROJECT is not that it isn't modestly entertaining (in a largely disposable manner) or competently made (it features solid production design and VFX), but rather that it's not a particularly compelling or smartly written entry in the increasingly overstuffed time travel genre.  I counted four credited screenwriters here, but none of them seem concerned about the  logical conundrums of time travel.  Yes, one can go crazy pondering all of the inherent and tricky issues that come up with the nature of paradox in time travel narratives, but THE ADAM PROJECT cheaply uses time travel as a hook to propel its plot forward without really thinking it through all that much.   

The film also represents the cinematic re-teaming of director Shawn Levy and star Ryan Reynolds, both of whom worked on last year's pleasant, but empty minded high concept video game themed comedy FREE GUY.  Levy is once again using Reynolds to play up his popular brand of characters, which we have seen perhaps far too frequently as of late: the motormouthed DEADPOOL-esque wise cracker with a quip for just about every situation (yeah, appearing most famously in that Marvel Comics role has been a typecasting curse for the Canadian actor).  If you're expecting his participation in THE ADAM PROJECT (which he also produced) to offer up a chance for him to break free from playing yet another iteration of the same relative character type he's been doing for years...then you're setting yourself up for disappointment.  Having said that, if you're fully on board with this Reynolds-ian brand, then you'll probably embrace THE ADAM PROJECT with open arms, even if it largely forces you to check your brain at the door too many times during its running time. 

I do think, though, that the film opens strongly.  Through some simple title cards we're informed that the year is 2050 and that, yup, time travel is for realsies (but we don't know it yet).  We're quickly introduced to "old" Adam (Reynolds), who's apparently some sort of resistance fighter pilot in this future that's flying into space and evading some sort of unspecified foe.  Because his ship is conveniently equipped with a wormhole generating device, Adam manages to time travel back to the past of 2022 in a desperate effort to right something that has been seriously wronged in the future.  His pursuer is Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener), who seems hell bent on stopping Adam and even goes to the lengths of sending her thugs back to the past as well to thwart him from altering anything.  Unfortunately for Adam, he meant to send himself back to the "critical" year of 2018, but instead got snapped four years later.  Things get really complicated for him as he (a) tries to tend to the wounds that he suffered upon crash landing impact and (b) comes in contact with his child self (Walker Scobell).   

 

 

At first, young Adam is intrigued by old Adam and is initially unaware of his true identity.  Yet, when old Adam reveals key and intimate details about their shared lives it becomes clear to young Adam that the adult he's talking to is his future self.  In many ways, young Adam is elated (especially seeing how ruggedly fit and tough he becomes as an adult, mostly because he's a meek victim of constant school ground bullying in 2022).  He also has found someone that can help process his family pain.  Adam's father Louis (Mark Ruffalo) passed away tragically just a few years back, leaving him and his mother Ellie (Jennifer Garner) still trying to deal with the emotional wounds.  Old Adam attempts to kill multiple birds with one stone here: He tries to teach his younger self how to defend himself from the aforementioned bullies, not to mention the importance of respecting and honoring his mom's sorrows and curtailing his jackass tendencies with her.  Oh, and he also wants to locate his long lost wife from the future in Laura (Zoe Saldana) and all while evading Sorian and her dangerous squad of armored soldiers that will stop at nothing to preserve the future by stopping Adam's pursuits in the past. 

One of the cornerstones of time travel is the instantly alluring prospects of fixing one's past to improve (or correct) something in the future.  And this very concept has been done in too many time travel films to mention here, but I will say that the relationship between both Adams here is fairly well handled and dishes out most of the film's decent laughs.  If there's a positive trade-off to THE ADAM PROJECT it's in seeing young Scobell doing an admirably authentic job of capturing his much more famous and older co-star's performance mannerisms, right down to his comic timing, line delivery, smart-aleck tirades, and even physicality.  Most of the charm in the film is witnessing both Adams try to out-snark each other and see them both growing increasingly irritated as a result (well, mostly for old Adam, because he gains intimate insight into just what a little SOB he was in his pre-teen life).  But, when the pair starts to learn how to work within each other's shared rhythms they become quite the dynamic duo team and work fluently together to get under the skins of just about anyone they come in contact with.  Again, Reynolds can play these obligatory roles in his proverbial sleep, but there is merriment to be had in seeing the very capable Scobell amusingly mimic him for nearly two hours. 

Still, young Adam is one of those laughably unrealistic child characters that unleashes zingers so fast and furious that they never feel like they should be organically coming out smoothly from any kid's mouth (more often than not, young Adam seems like a screenwriting construct versus a fully realized child character).  That, and as mentioned, I would have appreciated more attention being given to Reynolds in terms of affording him an opportunity to play a different kind of role than what we've seen constantly before.  Old Adam is supposed to be from an oppressive future and has had been dealt up many burdensome hardships through the years, but he rarely comes off as credibly world weary and broken.  That's not to say that Reynolds doesn't have some good scenes in the film, but they're too few and far between.  There's one terrific and poignant moment involving old Adam having a meet-up with his young mother in Ellie at a local bar one night.  She has no idea who he is, but he knows who she is, and they have a sweet conversation about parenting and communication barriers that's really quite moving (Garner in particular is the film's one secret weapon and plays the role of the grieving mother so delicately well).  THE ADAM PROJECT needed more introspective moments such as this for the characters to deal with the emotional and psychological enormity of time travel, but it seems to always be in a rush to thrust itself into the next comic or action set-piece, sometimes featuring people going all sarcastically meta by name dropping famous time travel movies and having way, way too many classic rock tunes incongruently blaring on the soundtrack in a semi-pathetic attempt to match the cool vibe of a GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY before it.

There are other problems at play with THE ADAM PROJECT, like an oddly miscast Keener, who in no way shape or form comes off as a sinisterly motivated antagonist here (she's a great actress and can play creepy roles such as the one in GET OUT, but here she seems kind of lost in the part).  That, and the film's mostly on-point visual effects look a bit wonky in the de-aging of her character's younger self.  Zoe Saladan's key role here is also a bit underwritten, not to mention that Ruffalo's deceased dad - when all is said and done - makes an unavoidable return when the screenplay deems it necessary and convenient.  And the more I thought about the pesky minutia of time travel that's presented in THE ADAM PROJECT the less engaged I was with the film, mostly because it left me asking far too many questions.  There are attempts in the film having old characters explain to young characters about how timelines can't be truly disrupted by changes made in the past (which you'd think should affect characters shared memories).  Young Adam even asks old Adam at one point whether or not he has any conscious memories of their interaction and I don't think the film provides any satisfying explanation to deal with that.  The makers of THE ADAM PROJECT want to communicate a rules template for their internal time travel logic, but it's so confusing and haphazardly relayed that their reaches a point when the movie just gives up. 

I didn't completely dislike THE ADAM PROJECT: It has a good ensemble of likeable performers on top of containing strong visuals and design work.  Plus, this movie's heart is definitely in the right place and manages to not play just stridently for gags throughout its running time.  Alas, too many of the elements of THE ADAM PROJECT feel slapdash and borrowed from far too many other better time travel flicks that Levvy tries to throw in the blender and mix together in hopes of making everything stick.  Ultimately, THE ADAM PROJECT lacks overall finesse and sophistication with its appealing premise.  It's slick, glossy, unpretentiously enjoyable in parts, and an easily digestible piece of popcorn entertainment, but it rarely stays with you the same way that other classic examples of the genre do.  As a Netflix diversion, it's worth watching for free (sort of), but if this were primarily a theatrically released feature film then I'd struggle to recommend it for the price of admission. 

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