The Adam Project doesn’t feel like a real movie. It feels phony both from the outside — Ryan Reynolds traveling back in time to meet his 12-year-old self and do battle against futuristic soldiers could be something you’d see on a movie poster in a not-too-inventive showbiz satire — and from the inside, too. It’s an assemblage of ideas from other popular films that just hangs there with little cohesion. It’s like watching a movie that hasn’t been made yet.
The idea that the world is speeding up is, for the most part, a lie people tell themselves to deny that they’re getting older. Even onscreen, a perceived acceleration may be an illusion: Yes, an average 21st-century film has more and quicker edits than one made before 1980, thanks to developments in technology and the rise of the “MTV style.” But the back-and-forth in a 21st-century Marvel movie is no faster than that of a 1940s screwball comedy. (It might be slower, actually.) So while Netflix’s science fiction comedy The Adam Project may feel like an Amblin Entertainment film played at 1.5 speed for viewers who grew up with those movies, the reasons for that go beyond the cruel distortions of time.
One major factor behind the film’s rat-a-tat energy is star Ryan Reynolds: He’s Deadpool, for God’s sake. Rapid-fire sarcasm is a cornerstone of his brand. Writer-director Shawn Levy has already collaborated with Reynolds (on 2021’s Free Guy) and shot eight episodes of Stranger Things, so combining the two is a logical next step. When Levy and Reynolds — both co-producers on the film — play to their strengths, The Adam Project is zippy, agreeable sci-fi fun that produces a few good chuckles. But in moments where undiluted sweetness is required, the film’s glib writing stands out in a negative way.
The Adam Project | Official Trailer | Netflix
The Adam Project, hardly breaks new ground as hanging-out-with-your-younger-self time travel movies go (The Kid, Looper), but here, it is given the big sci-fi action-adventure treatment. And director Shawn Levy certainly knows his way around a fun blockbuster (Free Guy, Stranger Things, Night At The Museum). He ensures that, even at its most unremarkable, The Adam Project is never not enjoyable. It’s hard to go wrong with Ryan Reynolds fighting bad guys with a lightsaber.
Much of the first leg of the movie essentially gives us an Iron Man 3 throwback – a broken man hanging out with a spirited, recently-lost-his-dad quippy kid. While they play with his futuristic toys and gadgets, the two inform each other’s journeys and get each other going again. What the Adam Project wants to do is make us feel. Young Adam is still reeling from the loss of his father (Mark Ruffalo) and giving his mother (Jennifer Garner) a hard time. Older Adam lives with the regret and resentment of both. While Ryan Reynolds continues his recent run of playing slightly different shades of the same merc-with-a-mouth character (which I personally never get tired of), here he brings an unshakable tragedy and pain to Adam. It’s irreverent humour laced with hurt and rooted in regret.