Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
THE ADAM PROJECT
Rated PG-13, 1 hour and 44 minutes
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Director Shawn Levy has leaned heavily on Amblin influences in REAL STEEL, the NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM trilogy and the STRANGER THINGS series. But never has that company’s curated aesthetic, awe and ambition been so fully embraced as he does with THE ADAM PROJECT. The sentimental sci-fi adventure centered on a time-traveling pilot who picks up his younger self on the way to find their father and change cataclysmic future events features pursuits, parental problems and poignancy. Although it doesn’t always hit its intended marks, when it does, it genuinely works. It admirably wears its heart on its sleeve.
Scrawny 12-year-old Adam Reed (Walker Scobell) is having a tough time. His caring, but absent scientist/ professor father Louis (Mark Ruffalo) died over a year ago, leaving his harried, financially strapped mother Ellie (Jennifer Garner) reeling, trying to raise the tempestuous tween on her own. To make matters worse, Adam’s acting out at school, picking fights with bigger bullies Ray (Braxton Bjerken) and Chuck (Kasra Wong), landing him suspended for a few days. He assumes he’ll be relaxing, playing video games, while his mom is away. That is until an unexpected stranger arrives – only he’s not really a stranger. It’s Adam from the future.
Handsome Big Adam (Ryan Reynolds) has inadvertently crash landed in 2022, traveling from the year 2050 when the world is on the brink of chaos. He stole a jet to venture back in time to find his missing wife Laura (Zoe Saldana), who disappeared under suspicious circumstances, and also stop his deceased dad before he unveiled pioneering time-travel technology – a magnetic particle accelerator – to business partner Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener). She’s since exploited the tech for personal profit and she’s out to kill anyone standing in the way. It’s up to the two Adams to stop her by traveling to 2018 – and heal deep-seated emotional wounds in the process.
In addition to referencing BACK TO THE FUTURE II in terms of its timeline disruption rules, Levy and screenwriters Jonathan Tropper, T.S. Nowlin, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin scatter homages to other films brilliantly bolstering the beguiling wonder of their family-friendly tale. They pull from E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (when young Adam discovers his injured adult self), CLOAK & DAGGER (seen in the pair’s snappy repartee) and FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR (in the reveal of the futuristic fighter jet’s capabilities). There’s even cloaked nods to THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE (older Adam’s confrontation with his young self’s bully) and RETURN OF THE JEDI (with a forest chase resembling the Speeder Bike chase). Augmenting the look and tangible feel, Levy and music supervisor Maggie Phillips litter the picture’s soundtrack with dependable classics from The Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin,” Led Zepplin’s “Good Times Bad Times,” Boston’s “Foreplay/ Long Time” and Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open The Door.” All of these aesthetic and audible nods working in concert buoy the picture during its weaker moments.
There are a few characterizations that are troublesome. Though Laura blessedly isn’t a helpless heroine, nor a Wife Who Waits At Home And Cries, she’s written as a regressive “Strong Female Character” utilized exclusively to aid the male arc. Saldana infuses her portrayal with gumption and grace, but she’s barely two-dimensional beyond the role as love interest. Maya doesn’t fare much better. She’s a thinly-drawn Boss Bitch villain. There’s a scene in a bar between Ellie and adult Adam that, upon an initial, cursory glance, due its setting, raises a few red flags. Blessedly, it doesn’t let them fly, but it does make us question why their only scene together had to be set in a bar and not meeting anywhere else (like in line at a pharmacy) to avoid any potential lascivious connotations.
While it ultimately conjures lots of tears during the heartening conclusion, the wish-fulfillment aspect gets off to a rocky, questionable start – specifically when young Adam first reunites with his father. It’s clearly understandable that adult Adam’s grief over his dad’s death has turned into bitterness, given that the world-ending invention Louis birthed stole his attention while his real son was growing up. Yet those same feelings haven’t occurred to, or had time to fester inside, his younger self and, as written, the tween barely reacts when spotting his sorely missed loved one.
Still, much of this film’s magic survives on the interplay between Reynolds and Scobell. They’ve got excellent chemistry, bickering and bantering. Their dynamic is funny, sweet and super charming. Scobell nails Reynolds’ practically patented snark with assured wisdom and wit. Not only does Reynolds have the comedic timing down (the farting wound gag is a corker), he shows us a few new shades, coloring the complexities of his character’s buried facets with nuance and an authentic sense of vulnerability we don’t often get to see from him.
Grade: 3.5 out of 5
THE ADAM PROJECT begins streaming on Netflix on March 11.