Unlike the previous straight-to-Netflix mockbuster featuring Ryan Reynolds, I can at least say The Adam Project doesn’t feel lazy. Compared to Red Notice, here’s a film that is light on its feet and action-packed while still retaining human-sized levels of emotion and an understanding that the actors cannot simply coast along on their charm. It still has the unfortunate drawback of feeling blandly put together and hoping the rapid editing will make up for the way these characters are constantly explaining the story as it goes along. Still, as an Amblin-style film pumped up on steroids, The Adam Project doesn’t crash and burn.
Reynolds is introduced in this film as a cocky space pilot fighting for his life to escape from 2050. Soon enough, we find ourselves watching a kid named Adam (Walker Scobell) deal with middle school bullies while grieving the loss of his father (Mark Ruffalo). It doesn’t take long for Reynolds to not only find his way to Adam but to reveal that he is, in fact, an older version of him, and they need to team up to save the future.
The ideal version of content one gets for subscribing to services such as Netflix is the chance to see exclusive features featuring big stars in projects given a lot of creative freedom to be what they want to be. A continued issue tends to be the results of these sorts of middle-to-high-budget movies being crafted in a manner that only ranks above being a TV movie thanks to the A-talent involved. Save for the various films directed by more celebrated filmmakers, Netflix has, by and large, been far better at building up buzzy projects than matching the hype with quality.
That’s why it’s a shame to see something as harmless as The Adam Project end up feeling exhausting. A lot of razzle-dazzle ensues in this film. Rarely does it go more than ten minutes without an action sequence pitting adult Adam against faceless stormtrooper types that are shattered into pieces by not-a-lightsabers or blaster rifles. There are also car chases, spaceship chases, and non-stop running banter by not one but two Ryan Reynold personas. I may not always be down for the quip machine antics the actor has perpetuated over the years, but credit where it’s due, Scobell does an excellent job channeling the guy.
As fun as that can be, it comes at the cost of a screenplay bursting with ideas and an understanding of its own logic, despite not finding better ways to convey those concepts. At first, this is acceptable, as we are thrown into a world where time travel exists, with a familiar plot of a young kid having to deal with his whole world changing. However, once we arrive at the back half of the film, it becomes clear that the huge rush it took to lead these characters to specific points sacrificed a lot of ways to better understand what this story is really after.
Ostensibly, this movie is about reconciling the past and resolving relationships that fell through at the wrong time. At its best, the film knows when it can slow down to let the characters actually develop. Sure, it may be cheap, but a highlight arrives when older Adam gets a chance to talk to his mother (Jennifer Garner), without her knowing who she’s getting the advice from. Less successful are scenes featuring Zoe Saldana as Adam’s wife, as the character barely has any time to register as something more than a plot checkpoint.
Director Shawn Levy reteams with Reynolds after Free Guy, and while the two seem to trust each other, this feels like a step back. Where that film balanced being a splashy Summer blockbuster with some clever ideas, this script by T.S. Nowlin (The Maze Runner) and others seems far less interested in acknowledging the fun that can be had with this time travel premise. Granted, we’ve seen plenty of time travel films, but having a knowing sense of humor only goes so far when operating at such a break-neck pace that skips past some crucial elements to get things more in line.
On the action front, the Netflix element also rears its head. While there’s some fun choreography and an attempt to deliver on some dynamic hand-to-hand combat, there’s this production sheen that finds the film looking too glossy and fake. Add to that a curiously empty world that comes as a result of both the pandemic and the recent trend of making blockbusters that commit to scale via CG vs. actual texture, and here exists a movie that comes off feeling lacking in depth.
That’s not to say no aspects make The Adam Project worthwhile. The first half does get into a lot of fun territory, including some creative sci-fi tech ideas. Plus, with heavy hitters like Reynolds, Ruffalo, Garner, and Saldana, it’s hard to not find them adapting the best they can to the material. However, Catherine Keener has the unfortunate task of playing an uninspired villain, with another twist on top providing her with a lesser example of another recent visual effects trend.
Even with the required plot device that threatens the time-space continuum or humanity as we know it or whatever, there’s only so much to invest in The Adam Project in terms of stakes. I get that Levy isn’t trying to shake things up here as a director, as he simply wants to deliver some family-friendly fun. This movie is not without that spirited quality. I just wish doing the time warp thing again would have led to more substantial results.
The Adam Project will be available to stream on Netflix starting March 11, 2022.