“The Adam Project” is mainly entertaining, often moving and most importantly, brief. This is a formative movie throwback from director Shawn Levy, star Ryan Reynolds (their second collaboration after “Free Guy”) and his bevy of writing collaborators. That’s right; filmmakers will get millions of dollars to creatively bend space-time rather than go to therapy.
Adam Reed (Ryan Reynolds) is a pilot turned fugitive on a race through time to uncover a temporal-tampering conspiracy that could lead to global destruction. On his journey, he enlists the help of his younger self (Walter Scobell) to find his genius father, Lou Reed (Mark Ruffalo), to dissuade his world-altering discovery.
You can almost see the premise of this movie coming to life in a development meeting. Writers Jonathan Tropper, T.S Nowlin, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin harness showcase an unabashed love for another high concept, the quintessential time-travelling film about fathers and sons that is Phil Alden Robinson’s “Field of Dreams”. That Kevin Costner-led masterpiece forms the ‘North Star’ for everything “The Adam Project” attempts.
Director Shawn Levy chooses to narrow the film’s focus in a way that only hints at the infrastructure of a wider world. The characters experience this increasingly dark future through the characters’ outlook and the gap between idealism and reality. The action with futuristic, often nameless storm-trooper looking time-cops adopts video game physics; bodies fly, vanquished bad guys dissolve into their timeline. The time-travel blends “Star Wars” hyperspace jumps and “Star Trek” wormholes. It’s still a confined COVID movie, only disguised by a predominantly wilderness setting.
Ryan Reynolds’ (‘Old Adam’ from here on out) performance works well for me in “The Adam Project”. As the character is introduced, you’d be right to think that he’s flexing a maximalist Reynolds. The persona as a person once again. However, the film has in its arsenal a series of quieter sombre moments that create a nice tension between the Reynolds that we’ve come to know and the performer that Reynolds wants to be. It’s been a long time since “Safe House” where, in the presence of legendary Denzel Washington, Reynolds had to surrender impulse to play reflex. Yet, in brief moments, in great exchanges with past iterations of family, Reynolds’ humanity shines through.
Walker Scobell does a superb job of doing enough as a precocious Reynolds without devolving into an outright impression. Scobell’s Young Adam initially stares in wonder at the cooler gruff Old Adam. He’s tall, shredded, a badass; yet the longer they’re together, the longer the reflections of Adam (old and young) start to make him interrogate his bitterness with the world.
Zoe Saldana’s Laura, Mark Ruffalo’s Louis (Adam’s father), and Jennifer Garner’s Ellie (Adam’s mother) feel like the moral signposts of the movie. Laura (a tough yet sombre Saldana) keeps Old Adam on the mission, Ellie (the buoyant and flustered Garner) offers hope for Young Adam’s future. For the Adams, Louis (a wise, gruff Ruffalo) represents the individual stakes at risk by tinkering with time.
Catherine Keener’s Maya Sorian is the villain of this piece, outwardly posing as the time travel authorities. But, behind the scenes, she’s orchestrated her monopoly on technology.
Now here’s where the film gets deeply frustrating. This is a movie that otherwise has done an excellent job advocating for the opportunities of casting younger and older actors to play the same characters and underscoring that the audience can suspend our disbelief.
So why are we then forced to endure the ghastly de-ageing of Keener’s Sorian, whose face isn’t even adequately mapped onto her body double. Hannibal Lecter wearing a victim’s face is more convincing than this completely soulless technological solution.
What’s more frustrating in the film is that actress and filmmaker Lucie Guest – the unfortunate body actor behind the part – could have used a stylist and minor make-up adjustments, and the audience would have suspended our disbelief. The lie grates so heavily against the ‘throwback’ outlook of “The Adam Project” and in any future viewings it’s going to be ferociously skipped.
So despite itself, “The Adam Project” makes an impact. It’s a movie about regrets; it’s about getting a chance to say all the things you leave unsaid. And what’s more, the things you wish you could say at other impossible times.