Bunk to the Future

‘The Adam Project’, a dopey time-travel movie from Ryan Reynolds

Time travel is both high-stakes boy’s adventure and forgive-your-father therapy, according to the cheerfully banal sci-fi excursion The Adam Project. The year is 2050, and rogue pilot Adam Reed (Ryan Reynolds) uses his stolen Time Jet to turn back the clock and hopefully save the world from a Terminator-level hellscape. Adam’s destination is 2018, but he accidentally lands in 2022, which forces him to take shelter in his childhood home—complete with 12-year-old self (Walker Scobell). Tweener Adam is a scrawny wimp, future Adam is a ripped jerk, both are insanely sarcastic to each other—plus they miss their dead dad, like, a lot.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

THE ADAM PROJECT★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Written by: Jonathan Tropper, T.S. Nowlin, Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin
Starring:  Ryan Reynolds, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Garner, Walker Scobell, Catherine Keener, Zoe Saldaña
Running time: 106 mins

Oh, that dead dad? He’s the one who invented time travel. Their pop Louis Reed (Mark Ruffalo), a beloved college professor and self-professed nerd, talks about his strong ethical conscience and how his work figuring out what he calls utilitarian wormholes is purely theoretical. Except it’s not, because he’s willingly shared his mathematical algorithms with amoral businesswoman Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener). Strange that someone so ethical would be so casually entrepreneurial with wildly unstable so-called theoreticals like time travel, but whatever.

In 2050, Maya is an evil, bitter workaholic shrew who apparently has an iron-clad monopoly on all temporal manipulation. She travels through time to visit her younger self (an uncanny-valley CGI Keener circa Being John Malkovich) to give ruthless tips on how those wormhole rides can make her the richest, most powerful person in the world. Think Elon Musk crossed with Biff from Back to the Future Part II, sprinkled with oddly outdated stereotypes about driven career women being workaholic shrews.

One wrench: Adam’s wife Laura Shane (Zoe Saldaña), another rogue time traveler who escaped the future to try and change the past. Adam needs to find Zoe and destroy his father’s ideas and formulations about those pesky wormholes so they can “correct the time streams!” Eliding all those time-travel paradoxes and multiverse mulligans, the film posits that there’s actually only one “fixed time.” And it’s up to them to unknot all the damage that’s been done.

Adam Project
Zoe Saldaña, Ryan Reynolds, and a zappy gun in ‘The Adam Project’. (Netflix).

By the way, Jennifer Garner plays a dejected mom. She’s Adam’s mother and Louis’ widow, and she’s there to make both Adams feel resentment and bitterness, but also to give them each their own redemptive moment—a teary speech, a lingering embrace—that might heal their pain. But also: they gotta correct those time streams! Which means there’s really not a lot of time for their dejected mom. There is time, though, for zooming in fighter planes and fighting through a parade of ineffectual stormtrooper-esque bad guys to destroy a crystal hard drive in the bowels of Sorian’s strangely empty corporate headquarters. Did I mention future Adam has some sort of retractable stick that doubles as a steampunk lightsaber? Cool tech trumps dejected mom.

Marking their second collaboration since last fall’s Free Guy, Shawn Levy and Ryan Reynolds are clearing their own path as sassy-sweet storytellers who see movies as pop mythmaking crossed-pollinated with superficial video-game mechanics. Their output is heavy on zing-filled charm and eye-candy thrills, but not so worried about internal logic, plot holes, earned emotions, or memorable conflict. It’s all very YA, which gives their work a four-quadrant effectiveness that plays well to the masses—especially when they throw in some heart-tugging daddy issues. Anyone want to play catch in the backyard? Yes, yes they do. After they hug it out.

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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