With a name that sounds more like a placeholder than a real title, The Adam Project proves a pleasant enough ride whose story takes us back through time.
The film's origins date back to 2012 when it was first called Our Name Is Adam and Tom Cruise was supposed to star. That interpretation never came to be, and it's now been resurrected at Netflix with Ryan Reynolds as the time-traveling Adam. A hotshot pilot, he must go back several decades from 2050 to avert future catastrophe as well as reflect on his own past. Of course, Reynolds is essentially playing an extension of himself that's almost indistinguishable from the other roles he has played, from the charming Deadpool to the recent misfire that was Red Notice.
This is just fine for Reynolds, who's not particularly known for his range. Save for a few bright spots such as the underrated Mississippi Grind and tense Buried, we pretty much know what we are getting with each "new" performance. In taking on the role of older Adam and meeting the younger version of himself, played by first-time actor Walker Scobell, Reynolds settles into his sarcastic snark with ease.
That being said, the banter between the two is consistently chuckle-worthy. Scobell steals the show in these scenes, getting some of the best one-liners and cracks at the older version of himself. The precocious sensibility of the 12-year-old makes him particularly well-suited to poke fun at the science fiction elements of the plot. The fact that Reynolds is basically playing a child in a grown man's body, both in terms of humor as well as maturity, helps to ensure that their relationship has a pleasingly silly give-and-take. They soon both begin to share deeper reflections about themselves and help each work through the impact that the loss of their father (Mark Ruffalo) had on them.
There is a persistent tension in how the film seems to seek to be more family-friendly but also draw a bit of a more adult audience. The way it hides the violence and death behind PG-13-safe effects, where characters dissolve into bright colors after being killed, is the clearest example of this in action. It is a visual trick many other films have used, and it makes the story come across as being rather tensionless in executing its action elements. What is bizarrely interesting is when the film also contains a moment where Reynold makes a joke about his bullet wound making a farting sound when he coughs. So while you may not get particularly gritty action sequences, you do get some genuinely strange juvenile laughs.
It is a more entertaining film than the last time Reynolds and director Shawn Levy worked together for last year's Free Guy. The moments of fun in The Adam Project come down to a litany of needle drops, with "Good Times Bad Times" by Led Zeppelin being a high point, and a playful tone that occasionally becomes sweetly sentimental. The ending does make use of some painful visual effects, in particular during an explosive climax that becomes too much about the spectacle rather than the characters.
But this can be forgiven as the rest of the film works well enough, even if it doesn't break any new ground. The Adam Project never takes itself too seriously and is the better for it, ensuring its flaws are smoothed over by its sense of charm. Above all else, it may be the only time you'll get to see a bullet wound be the means by which to make a fart joke in a movie...so at least it's got that going for it? ♦THE ADAM PROJECT