The last time we got a Ryan Reynolds-Netflix team up, it gave us Red Notice - the full-bodied, star-driven action-comedy blockbuster done right. The last time Ryan and director Shawn Levy teamed up, it gave us Free Guy - the rare genuinely inventive and, most importantly, original blockbuster from a movie industry fuelled by existing IP.
Netflix's The Adam Project falls somewhere in between the two. It doesn't quite have the imagination of Free Guy or the comfort of Red Notice. Instead, it attempts to be the big, comfortable sci-fi action romp that's rooted in heart and humanity. It's a sincere attempt that brings middling results.
The plot here is conventional and familiar. You might even say it's as familiar as going back in time to meet your younger self. Ryan Reynolds is Adam Reed, a time-traveling pilot from a dystopian future where time itself has become commodified…or something. When his wife Laura (Zoe Saldana) goes missing, he uncovers a massive plot by those in power which threatens to weaponize time travel to conquer the world.
Injured and on the run, Adam travels back to 2020 where he meets his 12-year-old self (Braxton Bjerken), whose help he enlists to find his wife, bring down the bad guys and save the future. I'm genuinely trying to think of a single life or death scenario where my even dorkier 12-year-old self would be of any value whatsoever. Unless the key to beating the bad guys was hidden in cartoons or faking an interest in sports. I just don't see it.
The Adam Project, hardly breaks new ground as hanging-out-with-your-younger-self time travel movies go (The Kid, Looper), but here, it is given the big sci-fi action-adventure treatment. And director Shawn Levy certainly knows his way around a fun blockbuster (Free Guy, Stranger Things, Night At The Museum). He ensures that, even at its most unremarkable, The Adam Project is never not enjoyable. It's hard to go wrong with Ryan Reynolds fighting bad guys with a lightsaber.
Much of the first leg of the movie essentially gives us an Iron Man 3 throwback - a broken man hanging out with a spirited, recently-lost-his-dad quippy kid. While they play with his futuristic toys and gadgets, the two inform each other's journeys and get each other going again. What the Adam Project wants to do is make us feel.
Young Adam is still reeling from the loss of his father (Mark Ruffalo) and giving his mother (Jennifer Garner) a hard time. Older Adam lives with the regret and resentment of both. While Ryan Reynolds continues his recent run of playing slightly different shades of the same merc-with-a-mouth character (which I personally never get tired of), here he brings an unshakable tragedy and pain to Adam. It's irreverent humour laced with hurt and rooted in regret.
The weak link here, unfortunately, is Braxton Bjerken as young Adam. It's an incredibly exciting idea - to cast a younger, less refined version of Reynolds' on-screen persona and imagine what it might look like to mount a buddy-cop comedy with both. But Braxton brings little charisma and bland line reading to the part.
Elsewhere, despite a fleeting role, Zoe Saldana continues to be an absolute joy to watch on screen (I'm not sure why we don't see her more often) and one of the most promising action stars out there. (There's also a joke to be made here somewhere about how she's forever doomed to be the girlfriend lost in time considering her arc here isn't all that different from Gomorrah's in Avengers: Endgame).
In the end, despite its earnestness, in The Adam Project the heart is limited and plot conventional, leaving us with just another comfortable, forgettable action flick.