Producers: David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger, Shawn Levy and Ryan Reynolds Director: Shawn Levy Screenplay: Jonathan Tropper, T.S. Nowlin, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Garner, Walker Scobell, Catherine Keener, Zoe Saldaña, Alex Mallari Jr., Braxton Bjerken and Kasra Wong Distributor: Netflix
Even when they try to be serious and raise science-based worries about changing history, time-travel tales are inherently silly; this one really doesn’t try. Oh, the characters in “The Adam Project” yammer a good deal about the danger of altering the “time stream,” but that’s about it; the script pretty much ignores any such concerns when it comes to what those characters actually do, and leaves the ramifications of the plot on the future totally up in the air when the picture ends.
All of which is to say that the picture is just a mindless Ryan Reynolds farce, with the obligatory sentimental overtones about—you guessed it—family, and a video-game mentality favoring shoot-outs on land and in the air fought with martial-arts moves, futuristic jet fighters and even light-sabers. It’s aiming for a cheeky “Back to the Future” vibe but instead bears greater resemblance to that 1985 movie’s cluttered, tiresome 1989 sequel.
Ryan’s Adam Reed is a fighter pilot in a dystopian America of 2050 (which we never see, but merely hear about), a member of the oppressive security apparatus run by Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener), who also controls the time-travel process. But he steals his aircraft to return to the past in order to short-circuit the invention of that very process by his father Louis (Mark Ruffalo) and Sorian, who was his associate. By doing so he hopes to alter history to prevent the death of his wife Laura (Zoe Saldaña) in a flight accident.
But instead of landing in 2018, as he intended, Adam winds up, wounded, in 2022, at the house where Louis’ widow, his own mother Ellie (Jennifer Garner)—Louis having died in an auto accident a year earlier—lives with his twelve-year old self (Walker Scobell). Young Adam is a pint-sized, asthmatic kid who, like the older version, is a smart-aleck motor-mouth, which often puts him in the sights of class bully Ray (Braxton Bjerken) and his docile follower Chuck (Kasra Wong).
Young Adam finds older Adam and before long has learned who the injured guy is. After the requisite bickering and bonding between them, they go off together in the jet from the future into the past, pursued by Sorian, who has arrived with her henchman Christos (Alex Mallari Jr.) and an assortment of armored Storm Trooper-like fellows to drag Adam back to 2050. Who should show up to help them escape but Laura, who, as it happens, wasn’t killed in the crash (Sorian-inspired sabotage) of her craft but escaped to 2018, and has been waiting around for her husband.
Got all that?
Anyway, the two Adams reach 2018 and connect with Louis, and the threesome invade Sorian’s lab to destroy the infant time-travel system. To further complicate things, the 2050 Sorian shows up, along with Christos, to join her younger self in a battle with them. In the process young Adam uses his skill as a video-game player as a weapon while older Adam exhibits his martial-arts moves as well as his light[-saber dexterity. Louis, meanwhile, shows his scientific savvy.
This maniacally frenetic and robotically schmaltzy farrago of snarky farce, mediocre CGI and flat family sitcom was directed by Shawn Levy, who previously worked with Reynolds in last year’s surprise hit “Free Guy,” another action comedy which was cleverer and boasted better effects (those here were supervised by Alessandro Ongaro). Levy’s work is pretty unimaginative, not helped by editing from Dean Zimmerman and Jonathan Corn that lacks zest, and Reynolds outdoes even his usual snarkiness, pushing lines of dialogue that sound recycled. Scobell is a likable enough kid, but Ruffalo, Garner and Keener are all wasted in stock roles. The look favored by production designer Claude Paré and cinematographer Tobias Schliessler is glossy but synthetic, giving the movie the appearance of a TV show. Rob Simonsen’s score, meanwhile, is energetic but generic.
At one point young Adam asks his older self whether after their adventure together he’ll remember it. Reynolds says no, his memory of it will be automatically erased. It doesn’t take any special acumen to know that most people will forget this flyweight time-travel action-comedy—which amazingly was in development for a full decade–even as the final credits start to roll, and they won’t have to leave the comfort of their recliner for it to happen.