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Film Review: Fun but Dumb, “The Adam Project” Travels Backwards in Imagination

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | March 10th, 2022

Film poster: “The Adam Project”

The Adam Project (Shawn Levy, 2022) 2 out of 4 stars.

Fresh off their successful collaboration on Free Guy, director Shawn Levy and star Ryan Reynolds team up again for The Adam Project, a sci-fi adventure that is as effortlessly charming as it is nonsensical. Though the adventure has its rewards, a momentary bout of post-screening analysis rather quickly spoils the experience. The films turns out to not be nearly as clever as it thinks it is; perhaps if the filmmakers doubted their skill, they’d try harder, and actually deliver something with greater energy and dramatic impact.

The initial premise is simple enough, as time-travel sagas go. 12-year-old Adam (a fine Walker Scobell) is constantly in trouble at school, his dad’s death in a car accident a year earlier having left him unmoored. Mom (a wasted Jennifer Garner, Peppermint) isn’t doing much better, and Adam’s misbehavior doesn’t help. One day, while suspended from school and therefore at home, Adam hears a crash in the nearby woods, discovering a massive crater upon investigation.

l-r: Zoe Saldana and Ryan Reynolds in THE ADAM PROJECT ©2022 Netflix

Then, worse, he finds a man in his father’s shed. Somehow, that guy knows everything about their house, and even more bizarrely, the family dog seems to accept the stranger without hesitation. Why? Because he is also Adam, albeit an older version from 28 years into the future. Which we kind of knew already, courtesy of the trailer and an opening prologue. No matter, because it’s fun to watch Older Adam (Reynolds) and Young Adam. Their scenes are among the best in the film.

But there are baddies from 2050 in pursuit. Turns out a woman named Sorian (Catherine Keener, Get Out) controls the time-travel tech and doesn’t appreciate Older Adam’s attempts to disrupt her monopoly. Meanwhile, the reason he has come back is to rescue his wife, Laura (Zoe Saldana, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), who vanished on a time jump of her own. The problem is that he missed the destination year by a few. After some hairy narrow escapes from villains with lasers, the two Adams jump back four more years, where they meet their scientist father (Mark Ruffalo, Dark Waters), who, as it turns out, may just be the one who invented time travel.

l-r: Ryan Reynolds, Mark Ruffalo, and Walker Scobell in THE ADAM PROJECT ©2022 Netflix

There is a lot to enjoy here: plenty of action (complete with collateral damage) and performances that carry us forward no matter how ridiculous things get. The tragedy lies in the fact that it all nevertheless feels so ordinary at the end, the usual CGI explosions nothing new. That and a certain final plot development defies narrative logic, given what we think we’ve learned early on. Time is not constant, no matter what they say in the script: if you change the past, it will affect the future. As great as the initial creative leap may have been, what follows is an unfortunate failure of imagination.

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), as well as a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is a former cohost of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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