A tale of two Adams, 30 years (and one tear in the space-time continuum) apart.
The Adam Project

The Adam Project (2022 movie)


Ryan Reynolds and director Shawn Levy's first pairing, 2021's Free Guy, turned out to be one of the best small surprises of a very weird year: a glossy sci-fi blockbuster with a tender little Ted Lasso heart. Their second, The Adam Project (on Netflix Friday) arrives a scant seven months later — thank pandemic math for that — in a somewhat messier state, though the through-lines aren't hard to find. Like Free Guy, Adam hangs a lot on Reynolds' rat-a-tat banter and a winky awareness of all the multiplex tropes it's tweaking, even as it drills down on the all-you-need-is-love message at its squishy center.

Unlike Guy, it's is also purposefully positioned as a family film, with a Spielbergian sense of wonder to cut through all the pew-pew noise. That's a lot of disparate pieces to bring together tonally, and some bits just don't fit. The movie-logic premise of it all, at least, is hard to argue with: Time travel exists, and Reynold's circa-2050 Adam Reed is somehow able to revisit his 12-year-old self (Walker Scobell) without immediately ripping a space-vortex wormhole in everything Stephen Hawking ever taught us (though Hawking does happen to be the name of his childhood dog).

The Adam Project
'The Adam Project'
| Credit: Doane Gregory/Netflix

Adult Adam's crash landing in 2022 is actually a miscalculation; he was aiming for 2018, into which his wife Laura (Zoe Saldaña), a fellow pilot, recently disappeared and has been presumed dead following a standard flight exercise. But he's also been injured in his escape by Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener), the mendacious CEO who seems to control all this technology, and by extension most of the apocalyptic world he lives in. So he needs Young Adam's healthy DNA to help him get behind the wheel again, though he could clearly do with less of the rest of him.

He's not the only one: Though Scobell is an appealing young actor, the script (credited to four writers) insists on making him the kind of precocious, relentlessly verbal tween that only exists on screen. And the bullies at school, accordingly, heed the call of his "punchable" face literally; even his infinitely patient mother (Jennifer Garner) finds him impossible. (Reynolds' Adam puts it more succinctly: "Don't you just want to hold him underwater till the bubbles stop?") That exasperation wanes as the movie goes on — his brattiness, of course, is just the defense mechanism of a lonely, undersized kid still grieving the recent death of his dad (Mark Ruffalo) — and emotional breakthroughs get their due.  

The narrative moves beyond its bickering Adams when Saldaña and an amiable, rumpled Ruffalo come in, though you wish Levy trusted his story enough not to fill every spare moment with expensive needle drops and the kind of high-key banter that inevitably ends up sounding like borrowed Deadpool in the mouths of most actors who aren't Reynolds. There are other distractions, like the face de-aging effects no current film can seem to go without, and an oddly cast Keener, whose impassive villainy worked better in Get Out than it does here. The life lessons, too, are unabashedly Hallmark-y (Hug your mother! Especially if she looks like Garner). For all its earnest sentiment and questionable science, though, Adam barrels along on movie stars and charm, from futures past and back again. Grade: B-

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The Adam Project
The Adam Project (2022 movie)

A time-traveling pilot teams up with his younger self and is late father to come to terms with his past while saving the future.

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