Adam Project, The (United States, 2022)

March 10, 2022
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Adam Project, The Poster

The Adam Project has much in common with last year’s Shawn Levy/Ryan Reyolds collaboration, Free Guy (notably the somewhat questionable “science” content in the sci-fi tapestry and well as some dubious plot points), but this film has a more serious tone and, as a result, gives Reynolds an opportunity to do some real acting (rather than simply mugging for the camera). The film is entertaining in the moment but leaves no lasting impression. There’s also a sense that the overall story deserves a larger canvas (such as might be found in a multi-part streaming series). There’s too little world-building for the movie to have the desired heft and a reference to The Terminator only italicizes how inferior this narrative is (both occupy similar sci-fi corridors: time travel being used to alter an apocalyptic future).

“Old” Adam (Reynolds) is a resistance pilot from 2050 who uses time travel in an attempt to return to the past and “correct” something that will have a profoundly negative impact on human life should it be allowed to stand. As he jumps into the wormhole, his ship is damaged by a pursuing space cruiser commanded by Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener), who has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Adam’s intended destination is 2018 – the year he determined to be critical – but haste and ship damage result in a 2022 landing. A series of contrivances forces him to seek out his pre-teen self (Walker Scobell), whose life consists mainly of coping with the recent death of his father, Louis (Mark Ruffalo), directing snarky remarks at his still-grieving mother, Ellie (Jennifer Garner), and getting beaten up by bullies after school. Old Adam’s arrival changes things. Pursued by Sorian and her underlings, the two Adams locate Adam’s lost wife, Laura (Zoe Saldana), then travel back in time to connect with Louis, who holds the solution to Old Adam’s quest.

The key to enjoying The Adam Project is to not think deeply about things. Not only does the screenplay refuse to get bogged down in details, it prefers to ignore them altogether. As time paradoxes go, the ones explored by the film are on the hokey side and the filmmakers don’t spend a lot of time thinking through the “rules.” It’s fine on a pure popcorn level, however. The action sequences, although not high-octane, are competently choreographed and executed, and there are some nice “buddy” scenes between the two Adams. The supporting actors – Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, and Catherine Keener – are all underused, emphasizing the argument that this might have worked better as a long-form project. Keener’s Sorian in particular needs more development. There’s a sense that the character has depth but time limits force her into a caricature’s mold with bad CGI de-aging.

The Terminator comparison is apt, and not only because The Adam Project explicitly references it. If one does a point-by-point contrast, The Adam Project rarely comes out on top. Time travel is always tricky for writers to handle. Some take the easy route – such as in the TV show Doctor Who or the movie Time Cop. Others at least try to build a model of consistency based on rules and paradigms. The Adam Project uses time travel as a plot device and doesn’t bother to consider some of the implications of its implementation.

The production gives Reynolds a welcome opportunity to break from the snarky, fatuous style that has informed a majority of his performances over the past half-dozen years. Although Reynolds has always preferred lighter roles to those involving heavy lifting, The Adam Project gives him a chance to emote in a believable fashion. As his younger alter-ego, Walker Scobell has studied Reynolds carefully as he incorporates many of the older actor’s mannerisms (both physical and vocal) into his performance.

Overall, The Adam Project suffers from many of the same flaws that have characterized a lot of Netflix’s recent high-profile projects: plenty of sizzle but little in the way of substance. The premise is intriguing and the cast is top-notch but, taken as a whole, The Adam Project comes up short. As a way to fill an unpretentious couple of hours, it’s fine (especially as part of a bigger streaming package), but as a destination film, it’s a disappointment.

Adam Project, The (United States, 2022)

Run Time: 1:46
U.S. Release Date: 2022-03-11
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Genre: Science Fiction/Action
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1