THE STORY - After accidentally crash-landing in 2022, time-traveling fighter pilot Adam Reed teams up with his 12-year-old self for a mission to save the future.
THE CAST - Ryan Reynolds, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Garner, Walker Scobell, Catherine Keener & Zoe Saldaña
THE TEAM - Shawn Levy (Director), Jonathan Tropper, T.S. Nowlin, Jennifer Flackett & Mark Levin
THE RUNNING TIME - 106 Minutes
THE GOOD - This family film about time travel and dealing with grief is engaging and unexpectedly sweet.
THE BAD - It leans too far into being an action film at times, and the plot is somewhat muddled.
THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None
THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10
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By Nicole Ackman
After finding success with their surprise hit "Free Guy" last year, director Shawn Levy and actor Ryan Reynolds have reunited on the Netflix project, "The Adam Project." Written by Jonathan Tropper, T.S. Nowlin, Jennifer Flackett, and Mark Levin, this science fiction film had its start back in 2012 when Tom Cruise was attached to star in it. Netflix rescued it from development hell in 2020, and Levy has finally brought it to the screen. It's not as delightful or as original as "Free Guy." However, it's still an entertaining, family-friendly watch and better than many of the Netflix original projects of its kind, including Reynolds' recent popular hit with audiences (but not with critics), "Red Notice."
Reynolds plays Adam Reed, a time-traveling pilot who accidentally lands in 2022 while on his way to 2018. He has come from 2050 but has crashed his spaceship and been injured, resulting in him landing four years off-course. He encounters his 12-year-old self (Walker Scobell) and his mother Ellie (Jennifer Garner), which causes him to reflect on his past and encourage his younger self to be better, particularly in his treatment of Ellie, who is going through a tough time in the wake of her husband and his father's death.
In one of the most poignant and touching scenes of the film, an adult Adam comforts Ellie at a bar, telling her that she is doing fine with her son – though she has no idea who he is. It's a rare moment of Reynolds abandoning his usual sarcastic schtick to deliver something more heartfelt. However, Young Adam is still reeling from the loss of his father Louis (Mark Ruffalo) the year before. He's picking fights with bullies at school, despite being small for his age and suffering from "an acute asthmatic condition." Scobell does an excellent job of believably being a younger version of Reynolds and manages to be precocious without straying over the line into annoying territory.
The film starts to get interesting when the two meet, and the older Adam quickly proves to the younger Adam that they are the same person. The older Adam is searching for Laura (Zoe Saldaña), but the two Adams eventually get swept into a plan to save the world from the greedy Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener), whose manipulation of time travel will one day have devastating consequences despite such events have not taken place yet. The film tries to keep its time travel logic simple, but the plot still feels like it's trying too much at times, providing us with a family sci-fi film that harkens back to Steven Spielberg Amblin films of the 1980s. While it's refreshing to see an original story being brought to life by a major studio nowadays, that reliance on nostalgia is still prevalent in the film's style and themes.
On top of that, "The Adam Project" sometimes struggles to balance being a family drama and an action film. There are many fight scenes, most of them well-choreographed in their hand-to-hand combat (and some that make the use of futuristic weapons), including several ones between young Adam and his bullies. The special effects throughout the film are decent, if not spectacular, particularly pertaining to spaceships and the lightsaber-like weapon that the older Adam yields against Sorian's henchmen. The film's use of music, both its score by Rob Simonsen and its soundtrack, is commendable as it captures that sense of adventure, mystery, and excitement one should feel from a story such as this.
Reynolds is an actor who often seems like he can only play slight variations on the same character, and this role doesn't stray far from his usual ones. However, much like in "Free Guy," Levy uses that persona to significant effect, making it seem natural for the character of Adam and reminding us of all of the better qualities of Reynolds, which has made him the star that he is. Meanwhile, Ruffalo gets a chance to show off his comedic skills as Adam's father both in the present and for his adult son. It's a reminder that Ruffalo can be great in these easy-going dad roles – and should honestly get to play them more often as they well utilize his inherent warmth and charisma.
"The Adam Project" may feel more geared towards kids, but it's still an engaging watch that is surprisingly emotional. While on the surface, it's a story about time travel and saving the world, at its heart, it's really about both the older and younger versions of Adam trying to process their feelings about the loss of their father. One has experienced it while the other hasn't, and the two end up learning from each other in the process. Plus, for my "13 Going on 30" fans out there, this film reunites Garner and Ruffalo as a couple after so many years, so big points to the creative team for giving us that.