A surface-deep family reconciliation drama wrapped around an overly derivative, unimaginative sci-fi/time travel premise
It took more than a decade in development hell and four credited writers (and untold uncredited ones), each one apparently working at sub-optimum levels, to come up with the screenplay for The Adam Project, a surface-deep family reconciliation drama wrapped around an overly derivative, unimaginative sci-fi/time travel premise, that also doubles as another mid-tier vehicle for the seemingly inexhaustible Ryan Reynolds. With three starring roles in less than two years (Red Notice and Free Guy), audiences, however, might be tiring of Reynolds and his relentlessly quip-heavy shtick. (Reynolds recently announced an extended break from fronting mainstream studio efforts, a decision that might do him and, by extension, grateful audiences, some good.)
When we meet Reynolds’ character, Adam Reed, he’s piloting a sleekly futuristic jet high-above the stratosphere, avoiding fire from a pursuing ship, and escaping just in the nick of (literal) time by conveniently opening a wormhole into the past. There’s just one problem (actually, many problems) with Reed opening a portal into the past: He’s returned to 2022 from a vaguely dystopian 2050, but he really intended to visit (or rather, revisit) 2018. The reason becomes, eventually (if not compellingly) clear, when the audience peeps a sad-eyed Reed gazing lovingly at an image of his time-lost romantic partner, Laura (Zoe Saldaña), on the 2050 equivalent of a cell phone (hint: It looks like a 2022 cell phone).
Arriving four years later than intended leaves Reed, if not exactly lost, then a man without a back-up plan, especially since the time-jump left Reed’s jet damaged and in need of (self) repair, meaning Reed has to hang low and chill out in the home of his 12-year-old-self and mini-me (Walker Scobell). With a small, slight frame and a tendency to goad bullies into misbehavior, preteen Adam has all the hallmarks of a Ryan Reynolds character, just younger and shorter. He’s just as prone to quipping his way out of dangerous situations as his older counterpart, except his quips often result in a more prolonged beatdown from the cartoon bullies who live to make preteen Adam’s life a purgatory of sorts.
It doesn’t help, of course, that both versions of Adam continue to mourn the premature loss of their father, Louis (Mark Ruffalo), a big-brained, time travel-obsessed scientist who died in an unexplained accident before Adam turned 11. The forty-something Reed remembers a neglectful, unsupportive father while the younger Adam remembers a more compassionate, empathetic parent. The younger Adam, however, has directed his understandable disappointment, despair, and anger at his long-suffering undeserving mother, Ellie Reed (Jennifer Garner, badly underused save for one emotional, heart-wringing barroom scene).
It’s obvious that Young Adam and Middle-Aged Adam have some unhealthy, personality-warping sh*te to work out for themselves, but with the equivalent of the time police led by Louis’s ex-business partner, Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener), and a trove of disposable soldier-henchmen at her command, getting through the five stages of grief and/or hugging it out will take most of The Adam Project’s sub-two-hour running time. Periodically, competently made, mostly forgettable action scenes, remind characters and audiences alike of the supposed high stakes: saving the future by saving, possibly changing the past, Terminator 2-style.
Reynolds’ director, Shawn Levy (Free Guy, The Internship, Night at the Museum), deliberately sidesteps the complexities inherent in time-travel stories, waving away any number of paradoxes involving multiple versions of the same character coexisting in more than one timeline, multiple, branching timelines, and time loops (among others). For Reynolds and Levy, time travel is both a figurative and literal device, an opportunity to fully leverage or exploit Reynolds’ star persona by giving him a mini-me or working out family trauma/drama. Anything else qualifies as an inconvenience vaguely explained away via a “fixed point” that eventually snaps every timeline change to its original position (or something along those lines).
Giving time travel any more thought here, though, would likely result in a wormhole-sized migraine, leaving The Adam Project to sink or swim on the strength (or lack thereof) of Reynolds indulging his inner quipster again, the novelty involved in Reynolds interacting with a mini-Reynolds (a dubious novelty at that), and the usual assortment of action scenes typical of non-cerebral, mid-budget science-fiction onscreen. In the end, the paltry, underwhelming results don’t justify an audience’s investment in time, effort, or concentration.
The Adam Project will be available to stream Friday, March 11th, on Netflix.