The Adam Project, a time-travel adventure comedy that goes easy on the science and, to its eternal advantage, clings firmly to the sentimental spindle around which the yarn is spun, is not particularly original but consistently entertaining. It’s a fun ride that packs a powerful emotional punch.
Shawn Levy’s Netflix film features a stellar cast, a simple premise, and lots of sci-fi action with cool-looking technologies that function marvellously when they come into direct confrontation with humanity’s fundamental urge to shield itself from future shocks.
The film centres on familial relationships, parental love, and the pains of childhood, giving the actors – Ryan Reynolds, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Garner, Catherine Keener, Zoe Saldana, and child actor Walker Scobell – plenty of room to shine without being overshadowed by the eye-popping visual effects and the occasional density of the technical jargon that is unavoidable in a sci-fi saga.
One key character in The Adam Project says, “Physics is a slog; we work on problems that our children will solve.” But nothing in the film feels overly ponderous, as it flows smoothly with a storey that explores the struggle of a mother to connect with her scarred son and the pain of a child who has lost his father in an accident as much as it harps on space wormholes, time streams, jump logs, and electromagnetic accelerators.
Reynolds, who collaborated with Levy on last year’s surprise hit Free Guy, has co-produced The Adam Project with the director. The actor will play Adam Reed, a time-traveling Air Force pilot from the year 2050 who crashes lands in 2022 while on his way to 2018. Risking his place in his predetermined timeline, he joins forces with his 12-year-old self (Walter Scobell in his first film role) on a mission to “put the genie back in the bottle.”
In the tumultuous present – which is old Adam Reed’s past – he must ensure that the future is dramatically altered in order to oppose the influence of a self-serving corporate group that twisted a time-traveling discovery. His father argues, “Mankind has no authority to mess with the mechanics of the cosmos.”
Young Adam is a precocious, talkative boy who is mourning the death of his father when old Adam appears out of nowhere to stir things up for him and take him on the ride of his life. The small-framed boy is bullied at school and is constantly nursing a bloodied nose. He is suspended from school for the umpteenth time when the film begins, for getting into a fight.
He also struggles to persuade his mother Ellie (Jennifer Garner) that he loves her as much as he loved his late father. “The future is closer than you think,” Adam’s mother says when the boy claims that he is only a child and deserves to be given some leeway. Adam is still a child, but the future awaits him and his rambunctious golden retriever Hawking in the form of a surprise, game-changing visitor in his father’s garage.
The people in charge of time travel in the future are led by the avaricious Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener). She sends her security chief Christos (Alex Mallari Jr.) and his soldiers to apprehend Adam Reed, who has strayed and gone in search of his missing wife Laura (Zoe Saldana).
Maya clashes with the two Adams, who are forced to travel back in time to find their professor-father Louis Reed (Mark Ruffalo), the “godfather of time-travel,” and seek his assistance in preventing Maya from abusing the technology she has stolen.
“It sometimes pays to be a nerd,” Louis says. Ellie, his wife, says she enjoys collecting “odd ducks,” referring to her husband and son. The pairing of the old Adam and his pre-teen avatar – a severely asthmatic boy with an inhaler who never stops speaking his mind – results in a lot of banter and mirth, which only increases when their deceased father enters the picture.
Time, according to Adam, is the most valuable resource on the planet. Young Adam, as bright as he is and not afraid to compete with his older self, barely understands what is going on but is ecstatic to be a part of the larger plan that has been put in motion.
The Adam Project is exactly the type of film that Ryan Reynolds is known to enjoy. He doesn’t have to break a sweat to put himself in the shoes of a wise-cracking, self-deprecating man who has’seen and lived’ tomorrow and has reason to believe it is worth fighting for.
However, once he enters the fray, it is Mark Ruffalo who embraces the material with unbridled glee and striking ease. He brings genuine vigour to the proceedings. His storey grounds the film in the atmosphere of a real home that misses his presence because he spends almost all of his waking hours in the research laboratory working on a project named after his only son.
Jennifer Garner is excellent as the troubled mother who does everything she can to keep her bereaved son safe but has no idea how to work her way out of her own grief and loneliness. Catherine Keener, who plays the ambitious entrepreneur, and Zoe Saldana, who plays Adam Reed’s wife, both make an appearance.
The screenplay by Jonathan Tropper, T.S. Nowlin, Jennifer Flackett, and Mark Levin is peppered with wit and humour, which, when combined with the story’s free-flowing vigour, helps The Adam Project from start to finish. The whole thing is watchable.