‘The Adam Project’ Review: A Frustrating Time-Travel Fantasy

 The Adam Project is close enough to being a good movie that it’s actually more frustrating than an outright stinker. It boasts a promising premise, some really strong opening scenes, and a cast good enough to deliver a warm and funny movie about the passage of time and the pain of growing up. But the movie doesn’t even reach the halfway point before it pretty much abandons any interest in human emotions and turns into yet another Netflix sci-fi adventure with a lot of forgettable fight scenes and special effects. How many bland dystopias does one streaming service need?

This is a story about time travel, and specifically about a man who journeys into his own past and encounters himself as an obnoxious kid. While the early scenes had me thinking about what it would be like to meet myself at 12 years old, by the end of The Adam Project the story had lost me so completely that I instead began fantasizing about all the good this kind of time travel technology could do in the hands of filmmakers who botched really promising ideas, starting with this one.

That came later. First came the scenes introducing the younger version of our hero Adam, played by Walker Scobell. He doesn’t look much like Ryan Reynolds, but somehow that’s who he grows up to be. (They do, at least, share the exact same snarky sense of humor.) Adam is picked on at school and mostly spends his time at home playing video games. His dad (Mark Ruffalo) is not around, and his mom (Jennifer Garner) finds herself totally unable to connect with her moody, lonely son

One night while young Adam’s mom is out on a date, the adult Adam shows up at his childhood home, bleeding and rambling about a mission to find a loved one from the future who is lost in the past — a mission that eventually involves recruiting their absent father to help them destroy an evil tech magnate (Catherine Keener) who used time travel to turn the year 2050 where Ryan Reynold’s Adam is from into a nightmarish hellscape.

In a movie like this, you want time travel to serve as an excuse for all these characters to talk to one another, the way they do in the far (far) superior Back to the Future. Occasionally, that does happen; Reynolds and Garner share a surprisingly emotional conversation about mothers and sons where he advises her how to deal with the young Adam without ever revealing his true identity. Mostly, though, the time travel serves as an excuse for Ryan Reynolds to fight generic bad guys — literally faceless, nameless dudes in black armor and helmets — with a high-tech lightsaber.

Not one scene after that tender exchange between Reynolds and Garner all of the budding character dynamics get chucked to the wayside to make room for an enormous dump of sci-fi exposition and fighting. Suddenly The Adam Project is not a movie about Ryan Reynolds traveling into the past to right a wrong and reconnect with people he’s lost; it’s this massive race to save the entire timestream and there are spaceships and robots and supercolliders and surprisingly shoddy de-aging special effects.

(By the way, Garner’s character basically vanishes from the movie at this point. After her biggest scene, she has maybe five minutes of inconsequential screentime through the rest of The Adam Project. That’s it. All that advice the adult Adam gave her is forgotten, along with most of the emotional stakes.)


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