The Adam Project — out Friday on Netflix — is unquestionably a Ryan Reynolds vehicle. In the years since the mega-success of his Deadpool persona, it’s become clear what that means. Reynolds’ characters are always fast-talkers. They pepper the film with zingers, taunts, and sarcastic remarks. And they undercut dramatic tension with one-liners, be it during conversations or action sequences. Reynolds basically plays himself in every movie these days. Or rather the onscreen version of “Ryan Reynolds”. (I don’t know Reynolds, so I can’t say what he is like privately.) On The Adam Project, thanks to time travel, we get two of them with debutant Walker Scobell playing a younger version of Reynolds’ character — which means the kid has to play a mini version of “Reynolds”.
Scobell does a good job as mini-Reynolds — I imagine that’s why he was picked from those who auditioned for the role — but despite Reynolds’ constant attempts, The Adam Project is funny very rarely. At the time of writing, it’s only been two days since I saw the new Netflix movie, and I can’t recall a single joke. That says a lot. In fact, I’m not sure I would have remembered anything about The Adam Project if I hadn’t taken notes for this review, and didn’t need to actively reflect upon it for said review. In a nutshell, the new Reynolds movie is very forgettable. It’s got a generic soundtrack (by Rob Simonsen, previously Ghostbusters: Afterlife) and a generic storyline that trades on Hollywood tropes and clichés we have seen hundreds of times before. Nothing is unique here.
After all, The Adam Project has been around the block. A version of the script has been kicking about Hollywood for a while, with T.S. Nowlin (Maze Runner: The Death Cure) delivering the initial draft. Tom Cruise was attached to the movie when it was first put into development a decade ago. But it fell in the cracks along the way, before getting picked up by Netflix less than two years ago. (Netflix, the home of forgettable movies.) Big Mouth co-creators Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin had made a pass on the screenplay by then, with Banshee creator Jonathan Tropper responsible for the final version — that has been brought to life by Free Guy director Shawn Levy, reuniting with Reynolds here. Of course, Reynolds and his people must have put their own spin on the dialogue, as they always do.
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Too many cooks spoil the broth, yes, but the bigger problem with the draft that has made it to screen is the lack of patience. The Adam Project runs for less than 100 minutes without credits — and that’s not nearly enough time to pack in half a dozen action sequences alongside character and narrative development. We have a boy (Scobell) who is grieving the loss of a parent, and a man (Reynolds) trying to fix his future and find his wife. But it’s all too rushed for the emotional beats to work. The new Netflix movie slows down long enough only once, and that’s probably the best scene. But otherwise, The Adam Project has no chill.
In 2050, 40-year-old Adam Reed (Reynolds) steals a jet and jumps through time via a wormhole to save himself. Cut to present day where 12-year-old Adam (Scobell) gets beaten up and suspended from school — he’s likely acting out owing to the death of his father Louis Reed (Mark Ruffalo) a couple of years ago, which largely results in giving his mother Ellie Reed (Jennifer Garner, in a thankless role) a lot of grief all the time. One night when Ellie is out on a date, Young Adam hears noises in the backyard and discovers an injured man (Reynolds) who has broken into his dad’s shed. After picking up on a few clues — including a dog named Hawking, who strangely plays no bigger role in the film — he soon realises the unexpected guest is him, from the future.
Big Adam tells his younger self that he mistimed his jump. He meant to go back to 2018 as he’s trying to save his wife Laura Shane (Zoe Saldaña) in the past. The Adam Project throws in a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo and pseudo-science buzzwords to explain away what’s going on, concerns that a subset of viewers might have, and how Big Adam and Young Adam’s meeting could change things. But it’s all a waste, completely unnecessary, and I tuned out every time it happened. Nothing it posits is a fresh idea anyway. Just use that time on your characters bro, I don’t want any of this. Anyway, after all that blabber, Big Adam’s mission ends up being sacrificed for a larger purpose — when he discovers a conspiracy that is connected to his family in more ways than one.
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The dynamic between Reynolds and Scobell lends to an easy breezy fun on The Adam Project early on. They both have a big mouth that makes their relationship fractious from the start. Young Adam keeps going through his older self’s things despite Big Adam telling him not to. Among said things, there is what is clearly a lightsaber rip-off. (The Adam Project doesn’t try to shy away from the fact that Reynolds is essentially wielding a dual-bladed lightsaber.) Meanwhile, Big Adam looks down on Young Adam for he despised this time in his life, and the kid doesn’t do himself any favours — he has the same puerile thoughts every tween or teenage boy does. Elsewhere though, Young Adam shows himself to be wise beyond his years. And thanks to the benefit of time, Big Adam imparts emotional wisdom to his young self and his mother.
Speaking of the mother, Garner does not get enough to do on The Adam Project. It’s hard being a single mother, more so when you’ve lost your husband recently and your kid is taking it out on you — but the movie doesn’t have time for that. It’s primarily devoted to Adam’s perspective and his dad, with the mother getting just one nice scene. In fact, all female characters get the short shrift on The Adam Project. Saldaña enters the movie half an hour or so in, and is gone within the next 20 minutes. And the film’s villain is uninteresting and useless pretty much — Catherine Keener is also the victim of some very poor digital de-aging tech. The Adam Project suffers from unconvincing CGI elsewhere — with her faceless minions akin to Stormtroopers, if I continue the Star Wars referencing, though the Netflix movie never connects the dots.
They do contribute to a couple of cool action sequences, where the choreography is coherent and not too Michael Bay-ey, though I did wish they had opted for longer shot lengths. But The Adam Project’s big climactic set-piece makes no sense at all. It falls into the trap of going big for the sake of going big, without bothering to truly think about it. I wish it had been culled altogether.
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In some ways, I feel similarly about The Adam Project on the whole. It’s an unfunny instantly-forgettable movie that plays it too safe and says the same old things about parenting. Reynolds is in a similar position. He seems to have peaked playing himself — though Deadpool 3 is yet to come, there are at least two sequels to Red Notice alongside Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot, and I wouldn’t put it past Netflix to see The Adam Project as a “franchise starter”. God, I hate that term.
This is all a result of Reynolds playing it safe, ever since the success of Deadpool. (Partly because Reynolds has had his share of failures.) He’s unwilling to surrender himself to directors, which is why he simply picks them these days. On Deadpool 2, director Tim Miller — who made the first Deadpool movie — was essentially fired because his vision didn’t align with Reynolds’. Miller wanted to take creative risks, but Reynolds was happy to stay in his lane.
Reynolds has since carried over his persona to other universes, including the Fast & Furious spin-off Hobbs & Shaw, the Pokémon film Detective Pikachu (which was also meant to be a franchise starter, but has seemingly failed), and the Michael Bay action thriller 6 Underground (another failed franchise starter, with Netflix acknowledging it didn’t work).
And most recently, the video game action comedy Free Guy (which has been greenlit for a sequel). Levy has made himself a Reynolds director — but both their collaborations are empty-calorie movies ultimately. To be completely honest, Reynolds’ shtick has gotten old. This needs to end. But I put The Adam Project 2 into the universe, so I guess that one is on me?
The Adam Project is released Friday, March 11 at 1:30pm IST on Netflix worldwide.