Sat. May 21st, 2022


PLOT: After accidentally crash-landing in 2022, time-traveling fighter pilot Adam Reed teams up with his 12-year-old self on a mission to save the future.

REVIEW: When I viewed The Adam Project during an early screening with star Ryan Reynolds in attendance, he said that he wanted to make a film that reminded us of the Amblin Entertainment days. He referenced the sense of awe that moviegoers felt after they saw E.T. for the first time. It’s a style of filmmaking that feels a bit foreign today although the master of those films, Steven Spielberg, still tries to keep that feeling alive. I would say the last film to try to tap into this was Ready Player One, Spielberg’s love letter to all things nostalgia. Some might call it a cheap hook to remind viewers of the times of the past but there’s a reason all of those films worked. They lit a spark in us as kids and made us believe our imaginations could take us anywhere. Those are the films that made it fun to be a fan of movies.

Netflix has one of these sure-fire nostalgia winners with The Adam Project, a science fiction adventure through time that is a throwback to the cinema of the past in the best way possible. As I watched the film unfold, I felt that sense of awe and wonder that Ryan Reynolds discussed ahead of the screening. You’re transported back to your childhood when all types of adventure seemed possible but the film also never feels dated. Director Shawn Levy does a commendable job of making the science fiction and action elements feel fresh while also making us long for the days of this kind of filmmaking. Also, beyond all of the action and spectacle, The Adam Project’s biggest achievement is its beating heart and its ability to dig deep into your emotions. I actually took my little brother to see this with me which was a last-minute change from a previous guest that was going to attend. By the end of the film, I was happy it turned out this way because what the movie has to say about family makes you want to hold your loved ones a little tighter after the credits roll.

Adam Reed (Walter Scobell in his feature film debut) is a precocious 12-year-old boy who isn’t quite a nerd but he also isn’t the most popular kid at school. He has a foul mouth and tends to be a bit of a smartass which makes him the target of bullying. He’s also pretty small for his age, which stacks the odds against him even more. After a run-in with a bully at school, he’s suspended and his mom Ellie Reed (Jennifer Garner) has to leave work early to pick him up. You learn through a series of dialogue that Adam has lost his father (Mark Ruffalo) in a car accident a year prior and things haven’t really been the same. Adam and Ellie are grieving in their own way. Adam pushes back against his mom because he misses his dad and Ellie is trying to keep it together by playing the role of mother and father. Needless to say, the two are at odds.

Things change for Adam when a ship crashes near his home. The vessel is clearly out of this world which sends Adam and his dog running back to the house when they decide to investigate. Soon they encounter the pilot of the vessel who is severely injured (Ryan Reynolds). The pilot knows a lot about Adam and Adam’s dog feels strangely attached to him as soon as they meet. The more the pilot talks, it becomes clear that he is actually Adam Reed but from the future. Adam was trying to jump to another time to save the love of his life Laura (Zoe Saldana) but he was knocked off track during a pursuit to retrieve him. The two Adams don’t really see eye-to-eye but adult Adam is already aware of what he was like as a child and what it took for him to grow up while adolescent Adam is full of curiosity about how he becomes the hero pilot of the future that he sees before him.

The Adam Project is all about childhood fantasy and wish-fulfillment. Young Adam’s adventure grabs us from the start because director Shawn Levy, aided by a screenplay from Jonathan Tropper, T.S. Nowling, Jennifer Flackett, and Mark Levin, tugs on our very own sense of adventure to make us go all-in on this journey with him. It’s all very big and fantastical and it’s a credit to Levy that he makes us see all of this through Adam’s eyes. I never once felt like a 37-year-old watching the film. I was taken back to a time when I was 12 and my imagination made anything seem possible. For 106 minutes, you’re taken back to the past and reminded of a time when films like this opened up the doors to so many possibilities because your imagination made everything limitless. Some plays on nostalgia feel cheap but The Adam Project uses it in a way that feels genuinely authentic.

The film has many elements that make it work but leading the way is the chemistry and unlikely bond that develops between Walter Scobell and Ryan Reynolds. I was shocked to learn at the screening I attended that this is Scobell’s first film because he handles himself with the experience of a pro. He has an engagingly snarky personality, which is perfect as a young version of the character Ryan Reynolds is playing, but he also expertly plays the vulnerability and emotions of a young kid who is lonely and trying to find his way. He keeps his co-stars on their toes and honestly makes them all bring their A-game to keep up. The rapport he creates with Ryan Reynolds is palpable. It has its share of very funny moments, particularly when young Adam questions how he got so jacked when he grew up and if he was a ladies’ man in college, but it’s also a deeply emotional connection. When adult Adam sees how young Adam is treating his mom in the wake of their dad’s death, it leads to a surprisingly strong emotional moment that has him telling his younger self the things he wishes he knew at the time. His mother is doing the best she can. Perhaps he needs to cut her a break.

Speaking on Ryan Reynolds further, the actor has a tendency to play the same schtick. I’m not saying this as a detriment because it does work but it has made critics, and some moviegoers, question his range. I will say that you do get Reynolds’ signature humor and delivery but you also get an emotionally grounded performance. When Reynolds has to turn off the charm and play the reality of a scene, he’s doing some of his best work on screen to date. In a movie full of solid moments, the film’s best scene has Adam encountering his mother at a bar. She, of course, doesn’t know this is an older version of her son, and they spark up a discussion about how she feels like a failure as a mother. She can’t quite connect with her son anymore but she loves him and knows he’s a good kid. This is Adam’s chance to let his mom know that everything she is doing is right and he takes the chance, as a stranger, to tell her so. It’s the only scene that Garner and Reynolds share together but they knock it out of the park and I almost found myself welling up as their encounter progressed. Both actors make the scene work but it’s Reynolds that surprises the most here as he washes away all the things we have come to know about him as an actor and just allows himself to be completely real.

The rest of the cast is also solid. Zoe Saldana makes one hell of an entrance as Adam’s love interest Laura and even though she comes into the film a little late in the game, their love story is given enough time for us to care about where it ends up. Reynolds also allows himself to have some real and emotional moments with Saldana that also represents some of his best work. Catherine Keener is on board as the film’s central villain and while her development is the weakest aspect of the movie, Keener does present a formidable force whenever she’s on-screen. Then there is Mark Ruffalo, displaying the everyday-guy lovable charm that he brings to many of his roles as the father of the two Adams. If I tell you too much about his performance it will give away some key elements that dominate the latter half of the film but let’s just say if you long for the love and admiration of your father, his performance, and those surrounding him, tug on the heartstrings.

The Adam Project is also full of fun action sequences that may feel borrowed from science fiction films of the past but they almost come off more as an homage. Adult Adam has a weapon that young Adam quickly references as a lightsaber. It’s not quite a lightsaber but adult Adam’s dismissal of young Adam’s claims about the weapon plays almost like a fun wink to the audience. The action is all very light and fun and it’s really reminiscent of action sequences that may have played in some of your favorite adventure films of the 80s.

Maybe quite surprisingly, The Adam Project turns out to be a contender for the best crowdpleaser of 2022. The film is funny and deeply touching as it reminds us of all the things we loved about these kinds of films growing up. It’s a definite win for Netflix originals, which don’t always necessarily land, and it gives us one of the best Ryan Reynolds performances to date. With shades of Back to The Future and Flight of the Navigator, The Adam Project truly is a total wonder to behold.

The Adam project, movie review, netflix, ryan reynolds, walter scobell, jennifer garner, mark ruffalo

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