Time travel is complicated, messy and rife for abuse — so why have it in the first place? Such is the thesis of Shawn Levy’s “The Adam Project”.
The film opens in 2050, in which time-traveling fighter pilot Adam Reed (Ryan Reynolds) steals a time ship, hoping to go back to 2018 when his father, Louis (Mark Ruffalo), unknowingly came up with the formula that made time travel possible, and when his wife, Laura Shane (Zoe Saldaña), disappeared. We’re not given much reason why he wants to eliminate it outside of the fact that Louis’ partner, Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener), used it to alter the events of 2018 so that she would have total control over the technology, and has created a dystopian future in which the events seen in the future scenes of “Terminator” are 2050 on a “good day.”
Under fire, Adam punches in the wrong information and lands in 2022, where he finds his 12-year-old self (Walker Scobell), who lost their father a few years earlier in an accident. Their mother, Ellie (Jennifer Garner), hasn’t yet cleaned out her husband’s closet, but has started to date again, though neither has taken Louis’ death great. Child Adam acts out by getting in fights at school and is generally not kind to his mother, who is trying to keep everything together while filling in for the void of his father, and adult Adam is resentful towards his younger self because of that.
Reynolds’ Adam is a capable fighter armed with future technology like a drone and beam katana, but he is one of Reynolds’ most unlikeable characters to date. Some of the banter between adult and child Adam is great, and it is funny how much adult Adam is over his younger self, but it just goes on for a bit too long and gets a little too mean-spirited. There is a redemption arc in this film in which he learns to accept his younger self and learns to be a bit kinder to him, but it feels rushed and half-hearted.
Saldaña is great in the few scenes she’s in, but she is criminally underutilized. Still, she manages to have one of the best performances in the film, completely eclipsing Reynolds when she does pop up.
Scobell was an excellent choice as young Adam, as he’s witty and is generally able to hold his own in this film. His chemistry with Reynolds reminds me a lot of the main dynamic between Dwayne Johnson and AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig in “Race to Witch Mountain”, as while older Adam is more experienced and often serves as the protector figure, he’s often outsmarted by his child counterpart. The film is also very tonally similar to “Witch Mountain”, as while it occasionally leans into adult themes of loss, death and coming to terms with it, it’s clearly aimed at a teenaged demographic.
We do eventually go to 2018, which I will talk about broadly to avoid spoilers. Ruffalo is generally likeable as Louis, but it’s clear that Levy didn’t know what to do with him, as his overall character direction is inconsistent, and his reaction to both Adams is lukewarm and underwhelming. The film tries to give him an arc, but there’s just not enough time to flesh him out.
Keener flat-out doesn’t work as the film’s villain. She just never feels fully invested in the role, and her motivations are muddy and unconvincing. She’s evil because she’s greedy and falls the most victim to the film’s casual tone, to the point where it’s hard to take her seriously as a threat even when she’s pointing a loaded gun at our heroes.
This film has the tone of “Race to Witch Mountain”, but has lazily copied some of the notes of “Terminator 2”, especially in regards to its overall idea of how to avoid a dark future caused by the abuse of powerful technology. As a result, it feels like a retread of ideas executed better elsewhere that never takes itself seriously enough for the viewer to care. It works as a disposable Ryan Reynolds comedy, but not as anything else.
“The Adam Project” gets a 6/10