Review: Ryan Reynolds, Mark Ruffalo and Newcomer Walker Scobell Give an Overly Simplified The Adam Project Enough Charm to Uplift

The director (Shawn Levy, Real Steel and The Night at the Museum movies) and the star (Ryan Reynolds) of last year’s smash Free Guy have re-teamed to bring us less a shot of pure energy directly to the brain and more a film that aims for the heart. The Adam Project centers on Adam Reed (Walker Scobell), age 13 when we meet him in the present day, still reeling from the sudden death of his father, leaving him and his mother Ellie (Jennifer Garner) very much alone and not exactly seeing eye to eye a great deal. Then one night, there’s a great commotion of light and sound in the woods near Adam’s house, which Adam investigates. When he returns home, he finds a wounded pilot (Reynolds) in his garage, who turns out to know a lot about young Adam’s current life situation and state of mind.

It turns out the pilot is actually Adam from the future, and he stole a time-traveling ship to go back in time to possibly stop time travel from ever being invented, in the hopes of spoiling the unethical plans of his father’s former business partner, Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener), who may have had a hand in his father’s death, as well as the death of Adam’s future wife Laura (Zoe Saldaña). For reasons that aren’t worth going into here, older Adam needs younger Adam to complete the mission, and the two end up going a few additional years back in time to meet up with their father Louis (Mark Ruffalo). But with Sorian and her henchman Christos (Alex Mallari Jr.) on their tail, the time travelers also meet up with a younger (via de-aging) Sorian, before she has been corrupted by the prospects of time travel and her older self secretly going back in time to talk younger Sorian into betraying her partner.

The love/hate banter between the two Adams gets old quickly, but I’ll admit that young Walker Scobell does a solid job matching Reynolds cadence and smarmy joke delivery. Once they make contact with their father, the film finds a bit more of its emotional core as both Adams realize this will likely be the last time they’ll get to see their father alive, especially if the consequence of this mission is that time travel was never a thing. I’m also of a firm belief that twice the Catherine Keener can’t be all bad, and it’s a treat to see her play two sides of the same coin so effortlessly and convincingly.

The lessons learned—about everything from cooperation and forgiveness to scientific responsibility—are overly simplistic and don’t always land emotionally, but there’s almost too much good in the cast for The Adam Project to go completely off the rails. The science fiction portion of the work isn’t meant to be compelling, especially when they start explaining the rules of time travel, which don’t make a lick of sense and basically only exist to allow the plot to move forward. But there’s something about that core relationship between the Adams that pulls what doesn’t work through. Then when you bring in Ruffalo, everything genuinely begins to gel into something that might get you to uplifting but likely not all the way to inspirational. Sometimes, uplifting is all you need.

The film is now streaming on Netflix.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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