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The Adam Project review: A mixed bag of saccharine sci-fi

Sometimes a film can have all the right ingredients — a great cast, a talented writer, a fantastic director — and still fall short. The Netflix film The Adam Project is the latest to fit that unfortunate mold, and it really is a shame, because it’s the sort of movie you really do want to like. Sadly, it makes it frustratingly difficult to do so.

Directed by the Free Guy and Night at the Museum franchise director Shawn Levy, The Adam Project casts Ryan Reynolds as Adam Reed, a fighter pilot from the future who travels back to 2022 in order to avert a terrible, looming disaster on the horizon. Now stuck in the past, he reluctantly teams up with his 12-year-old self, played by Walker Scobell, in order to save the future.

The aforementioned pair are joined in the cast by Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo as Adam’s parents, Zoe Saldaña as Adam’s future wife, and Catherine Keener as the sinister CEO responsible for humanity’s dark fate.

On the surface, it sounds simple enough, and it is — but underneath the film’s witty dialogue and glossy sentimentality is a messy amalgam of elements that never quite blend the way you hope they will.

Walker Scobell and Ryan Reynolds look at each other in a scene from The Adam Project.

The right stuff

While the pieces of The Adam Project don’t all fit together cleanly, there are plenty that work just fine — and even wonderfully well — on their own.

It’s asking a lot from a young actor to keep up with Reynolds’ effortless charisma, let alone match it, but Scobell makes it look easy throughout much of the film. Their banter is fun, smoothly timed, and believable as two versions of the same person, riffing off each other in ways that feel natural in the flow of the scenes they share. The Adam Project is Scobell’s first and only screen credit up to this point, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him overshadowed by the talented, experienced cast around him, but that never happens in the film.

Ryan Reynolds looks at Jennifer Garner at a bar in a scene from The Adam Project.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Levy also does a wonderful job with many of the sentimental elements of the film. His knack for making heavy emotional scenes a little lighter with just the right amount of humor is on full display in The Adam Project, whether it’s a grown-up Adam telling his mother everything he wished she knew when he was a kid, or the more subtle moments with the two Adams connecting over shared childhood memories. These are the elements Levy has always been great at delivering to audiences, and he continues to do so here.

When the film tries to weave all of its discrete threads together, however, is when the tapestry of The Adam Project starts to fray and fall apart.

The Adam Project (2022)
The Adam Project
Genre Science Fiction, Adventure, Comedy
Stars Ryan Reynolds, Zoe Saldana, Jennifer Garner
Directed by Shawn Levy

Wrong turns

While many parts of the film work well on their own, too often The Adam Project feels like a collection of individual performances, set pieces, and genres that never quite gel together.

Garner and Ruffalo, for example, each feel like they’re acting in compelling, but decidedly different films from the rest of the cast, tapping into wells of inspiration for their characters that don’t necessarily draw from the same story and tone. That sense of dissonance gets stronger as more of the cast is brought together, giving many of the scenes intended to establish Adam’s relationship with his parents — a foundational theme in the story — a stitched-together feeling.

Ryan Reynolds, Mark Ruffalo, and Walker Scobell walk together and talk in a scene from The Adam Project.

The film’s desire to dip its toes into neighboring genres — and even subgenres — also falters a bit. A middle chapter that shoehorns in an explosive, gun-filled action sequence ends up feeling out of place in the surrounding, family-friendly adventure, for example, while a late scene with Ruffalo and Reynolds sharing an emotional exchange goes all-in on melodrama to such a degree that it feels like parody. These detours into elements that feel out of sync with the rest of the film make the story feel disjointed far too often and make it difficult to connect with Adam’s experiences over the long haul.

Zoe Saldana points a gun at the camera while standing next to Ryan Reynolds.

All over the place

While there are plenty of bright spots in The Adam Project, they never quite shine together as the film’s time-twisting story plays out. At various points, the events unfolding on the screen feel too cute, too sentimental, too violent, or even too cerebral (when it comes to the narrative’s time-travel logistics) relative to the film around them. That lack of consistency makes it tough to just sit back and enjoy The Adam Project as a linear tale, and instead, give the film a “series of vignettes” vibe that’s hard to shake no matter how funny Reynolds and Scobell are, or how poignant a particular scene gets.

It’s unfortunate, because you don’t have to look hard to see all the pieces of a great film in The Adam Project. The more you step back and examine the big picture, though, the less impressive it looks.

Netflix original film The Adam Project premieres March 11 on the streaming service.

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