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Time is (not) on your side - ‘The Adam Project’

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I have a complicated history with Ryan Reynolds.

For a good stretch of his career, I found him to be generally insufferable. He radiated smugness, smirking and quipping his way through a series of not-terribly-interesting comedies and franchise misfires. Long story short, I didn’t care for him.

And then, well … he wore me down.

Don’t get me wrong – the aforementioned qualities are still part of the package. And he’s still making plenty of questionable films. I just find myself enjoying them more, even if (when) they’re not necessarily that great.

Which brings us to “The Adam Project,” the new big-budget Netflix offering starring Reynolds as a time traveler who inadvertently winds up partnering with his younger self (played exceptionally by newcomer Walker Scobell) in an effort to save the world from the clutches of a power-mad billionaire.

I know, I know – it sounds ridiculous. And it is. But it’s better than it sounds. The notion of setting right what once went wrong is a staple of the time travel genre; adding the coming-of-age element gives the film a flavor that makes it palatable even when the logistics of the narrative break down and we see the seams a little.

The year is 2050. Time travel has been rendered both achievable and practical. Adam Reed (Ryan Reynolds) is a pilot who we meet as he has stolen a time jet to travel back in time, militaristic forces in hot pursuit.

In 2022, Adam Reed (Walker Scobell) is a young man struggling through middle school. His father died in a car accident, leaving him and his mother Ellie (Jennifer Garner) to grieve. He acts out in school, constantly getting into fights because he can’t seem to control his sharp tongue.

But when 2050 Adam – who has missed his time target – turns up, young Adam’s whole world is thrown into chaos. Adult Adam needs to continue on his journey – his ultimate aim is to find his wife Laura (Zoe Saldana) who he believes to be lost in the past. However, there are very powerful people invested in Adam’s never learning the truth, including Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener), the tech billionaire whose total control of time travel makes her the de facto ruler of Adult Adam’s time.

Oh, and it just so happens that Adam’s deceased father Louis (Mark Ruffalo) is the renowned quantum physicist whose work eventually becomes the fundamental basis for time travel.

As the situation develops, the two Adams must team up if there’s to be any hope of the mission’s success. It’s a path littered with danger, but even as the unlikely pair face down their assorted adversaries, the relationship between them grows. Does Adam want to save his younger self? Protect him? Or must he let the cards fall as they may in order to become the man he now is?

“The Adam Project” is a pretty good movie. I’m as surprised as you are. I mean, I knew going in that I would probably have a good time, but I didn’t expect the film to be as heartfelt as it was (though perhaps I should have, considering Shawn Levy’s “Stranger Things” bona fides).

It’s tough to deny the charm of “The Adam Project.” There’s a real sense of wonder at work here, along with an empathetic look at the rigors of growing up. None of that kid-centricness should come as a surprise, by the way; Levy’s presence alone could have predicted he’d make a film with this kind of vibe.

And the production values are solid, especially for a Netflix offering. The effects aren’t perfect, but they’re better than a lot that we’ve seen from the streamer’s originals. The big CGI moments don’t always land, but for the most part, they’re fine. We also get some good fight scenes, a chase or two and a few solid explosions.

The story doesn’t always fully hold together – four credited writers will do that sometimes – but part of that is simply the nature of time travel narratives. The whole genre invites plot holes, so if the story gets a little shaggy, well … what did you expect? It’s relatively clean, all things considered. Not great, perhaps, but good enough.

But the biggest reason this film works is its stars.

Reynolds is at his best when he can successfully fold a version of his standard persona into the context of a genre film. The ur-example is “Deadpool,” but films like “Free Guy” (his previous team-up with Levy) illustrate it as well. It’s nice to see him dial it back a little like he does here, where you don’t get the constant deluge of “on.” Again, he’s still doing all the stuff that used to annoy me, but it no longer annoys me as much. Maybe I’m just getting old.

But the revelation here is young Walker Scobell. His recreation of Reynolds’ attitude and mannerisms is uncanny, a spot-on retrofit that paints a vivid picture of the persona’s origins. But it’s not just an impression – Scobell is doing good work across the board. He’s finding some nuance as well, more than you might expect from a first-timer, though again – Levy’s shown himself more than capable of getting quality performances from youngsters.

The two of them together are the best part of the film, with each confronting the reality made flesh by the other. It’s an easy bond, snide and heartfelt and tremendously fun to watch.

The supporting cast is wildly overqualified, which is always fun. Garner is good in what is ultimately a thankless part; she makes the most of her limited arc, but it still seems as though her talents were wasted. Ditto Mark Ruffalo, who doesn’t show up until well into the film and is saddled with a fairly two-dimensional role. He’s great, of course, but we don’t get enough of him and even less of Zoe Saldana, whose presence comes off as an afterthought. Catherine Keener, meanwhile, just roams around taking big bites of the scenery and generally enjoying playing the heavy.

“The Adam Project” was better than I expected it to be, a quality piece of popcorn entertainment anchored by a delightful central pairing. It’s a tweaked coming-of-age tale that incorporates sci-fi elements in an interesting way, reminiscent of family-oriented genre offerings of the past.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 14 March 2022 11:09


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