‘The Adam Project’ review: Ryan Reynolds sci-fi goes back to the future

The 'Free Guy' star borrows from classic cinema to serve up a derivative time-travel adventure

This high-concept time travel movie was first mooted in 2012 as a Tom Cruise vehicle called Our Name Is Adam. Then, well, nothing much happened until 2020, when it was retooled as a Ryan Reynolds showcase and picked up by Netflix. But sadly, though The Adam Project reunites Reynolds with Free Guy director Shawn Levy, it lacks that film’s kinetic energy and unexpected charm.

The film’s premise is familiar – Back to the Future is a very obvious influence – but not without promise. Reynolds plays Adam Reed, a wisecracking fighter pilot from 2050 who travels back in time to save the life of soulmate Laura (Zoe Saldaña). Adam’s mission wasn’t exactly authorised by his megalomaniac boss Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener), so when he botches his coordinates, he ends up crash landing in 2022 with her henchmen in hot pursuit. Here, he comes face-to-face with his 12-year-old self, played gamely by Walker Scobell. The young actor has Reynolds’s facial expressions and speech cadence nailed, so Levy has fun letting them bicker a bit before they become mates.

The Adam Project
Ryan Reynolds plays a time-travelling, older version of Walker Scobell’s character Adam. CREDIT: Netflix

Sadly, little else in The Adam Project feels quite so effortless. The slightly convoluted storyline involves young and old Adam venturing back in time – again – to convince their dead dad, visionary scientist Louis Reed (Mark Ruffalo), to bury the tech that will eventually make time travel possible. That way, they can stop Keener’s underwritten villain from interfering with the past to make herself even richer in the future. Inevitably, there’s a lot of talk about whether their own interference in the past is strictly ethical, but for the sake of the story they never stop and think about it for too long. The vibe here is more glib than cerebral.

The CGI-heavy fight scenes are compelling enough, though the final showdown is so silly and predictable it almost feels like something from an Austin Powers movie. The main problem, though, is that none of the four credited screenwriters has managed to flesh out these characters in any meaningful way. Reynolds gives us his usual post-Deadpool blend of quips and sinew, but it feels like a case of diminishing returns here. Neither Ruffalo nor Saldaña are given much to work with, but they’re positively spoiled compared to Jennifer Garner, who’s wasted playing a two-dimensional careworn mum type. It feels telling that her character is the only one who’s never told what is actually going on.

Because of this humanity vacuum, the film’s emotional beats feel strained and awkward; often, Levy relies too heavily on Rob Simonsen’s mawkish score to tell us to feel something. The result: an inoffensive but forgettable sci-fi trifle that probably isn’t worth anyone’s precious time.

Details

  • Director: Shawn Levy
  • Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Zoe Saldaña, Mark Ruffalo
  • Release date: March 11 (Netflix)
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