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The time travel flick doesn't have enough fuel
I did not realize until about 30 minutes into The Adam Project that Ryan Reynolds and I need to take a little time apart.
I've always liked the guy — hell, I even kinda liked Green Lantern — but after the double shot of Red Notice and Free Guy, the large footprint that Deadpool maintains, and all those commercials for his liquor company, plus the occasional Chris Pratt movie (the Pepsi to Reynolds' Coke), it is hard to ignore his ubiquitous presence. His schtick is a very particular one, flagrantly obnoxious, yet insisting he's still lovable. (It's why he was born to play Deadpool.) But with this tremendous overexposure, one begins to wonder … is he still lovable?
For the first 15 or 20 minutes of the new Netflix original The Adam Project, a special effects-driven high-concept action-comedy from Shawn Levy, director of Real Steel and Night at the Museum 2 and 3, the whiz-bang of the movie's premise is enough to distract you. Then, once the very tiresome story engines turn over and begin slogging toward a predictable conclusion, there's plenty of time to look at your television screen and wonder, "When, exactly, did I invite this much Ryan Reynolds into my life?"
Perhaps The Adam Project underlines the issue so clearly because, in a way, it features two Ryan Reynoldses. There's the Adam Reed we meet in the first scene, a hot-rod space pilot from 30 years from now, zipping through wormholes to classic rock needle-drops (you'll hear the Spencer Davis Group, Led Zeppelin, and Boston in this movie) and then preteen Walker Scobell, meant to play young Adam in 2022.
To give credit where it is due, Scobell is actually quite funny as the chatterbox pipsqueak hurling barbs and diss bombs. Sure, he talks like a screenwriter wishes a kid would talk (and, believe it or not, The Adam Project has four credited ones), but this young performer is loaded with zing and has strong comic timing. I would imagine 400,000 kids auditioned for this part, and they definitely chose the right one.
Anyhow, Reynolds of the future is traveling to the past in his time jet on some big mission, much to the chagrin of the authorities. His intention is to go to 2018, but due to some pew-pew action in orbit, he ends up in 2022. He finds his younger self, whom he needs because of his DNA code. (The scene of Little Adam encountering Big Adam is a bit like Elliott discovering E.T., but with PG-13 quips.) Big Adam is wounded, so he can't work his ship alone, or something. It's a little vague.
Also vague are the rules of time travel in this movie. The Adam Project seems to want all the fun of Back to the Future without doing any of the work to make it all click. There is some speed-of-sound dialogue about "fixed timelines" but no explanation about what that actually means. Nevertheless, the two Adams race off on an adventure to prevent mankind from ever inventing time travel in the first place.
Along the way they encounter evil businesswoman Catherine Keener and her band of Cylon-ish warriors (I honestly could not tell if they were humans in costume or androids) and, more emotionally, their dead scientist father, played by Mark Ruffalo. Jennifer Garner shows up for three scenes to exude some caring mom-ness, doing her best with this nothing role.
No such luck for Zoe Saldaña, who is in the movie for maybe seven minutes. Three of those minutes are spent in cheap-looking CG fights, making those Cylons turn into rainbow-colored vapor, another two are spent making breathy kissy-face with Reynolds, and the remaining two are spent urging Reynolds to "go!" and be a hero. And yet "saving" her is the story catalyst for this whole project. I hope Netflix paid her well.
The first few minutes of this movie, with its cool ships and Walker Scobell's energy, promise some bona fide adventure cinema. I was reminded a little of The Last Starfighter, which I saw mouth agape in theaters when I was but a wee lad. But The Adam Project simply lacks imagination and effort. For much of its running time, it literally doesn't go anywhere; it just hangs around the house making fart jokes. The action scenes are mostly dull (one aerial dogfight is pretty good), and the shoehorned classic rock is laughable. (Not only does Levy waste the song "Foreplay/Long Time" by Boston, but he commits the sin of cutting it up to suit his edit. For this he should be tried at The Hague.)
I have no doubt some people will like The Adam Project, and it's understandable. As Netflix has, for many of us, just become a basic life utility, it's a "free movie." Like Red Notice, it can play in the background and occasionally grab your interest. There'll be something new to come along in a month. Maybe one of us should discover time travel to go back and change this distribution model from ever being invented.
Premieres: Friday, March 11 on Netflix
Who's in it: Ryan Reynolds, Walker Scobell, Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldaña
Who's behind it: Stranger Things EP Shawn Levy (director/producer)
For fans of: Double the Ryan Reynolds, '80s adventure flicks