Review: ‘The Adam Project’ (Steven Spielberg’s TimeCop)

Time travel exists. We just don’t know why Ryan Reynolds needs it as a plot device yet.

Adam Reed (Walker Scobell) is a small, smart-mouthed twelve-year old being bullied at school; his widowed mother Ellie (Jennifer Garner) can’t seem to reach him, especially when still grieving over the loss of her husband. Faster than you can say “come with me if you want to live,” a rogue pilot (Ryan Reynolds) from the future crashes into Adam’s timeline with a classified mission. Fortunately, it doesn’t take long for young Adam to figure out the truth: the stranger is his middle-aged self, and whatever is happening can jeopardize the future, beginning with his own. In order to stop stock villain Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener) from writing her own evil future, they’ll need help from the godfather of time travel: Adam’s dad Louis (Mark Ruffalo). Wait: his character is literally named “Lou Reed?”

Shawn Levy has directed his fair share of high-concept family films and television, including all three Night at the Museum flicks, episodes of Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” and most recently last year’s surprise hit Free Guy, which got him attached to the announced Deadpool 3. The trailers for the direct-to-Netflix film suggests borrowing sci-fi bits from anything and everything, merrily self-aware of cinematic temporal physics while pretending it isn’t another entry into the same genre. Engorged with wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff viewers have all seen before, is the film even trying to set itself apart, or is it just fat and happy to be playing in the same hourglass-shaped sandbox?

The Adam Project plays like a love letter to time travel genre fans, invoking a Back to the Future vibe while lifting the entire plot of 1994’s TimeCop. Even weirder is Reynolds as a wisecracking hero, Ruffalo as an obsessed scientist, Keener as a corporate baddie, and Zoe Saldaña as a kick-ass heroine; could the casting have been any lazier? The x-factor making any of this less than forgettable is newcomer Walker Scobell as Reynolds’ tween-age junior clone, a spitting image of the actor as a kid with comic timing matching Ryan himself. In spite of all the been-there, done-that tropes working against it, the movie is surprising light and watchable, notably due to the warm and squishy Scobell-vs-Reynolds banter, sanitized actions scenes be damned.

For a film with an extensive production design — and reportedly a $175 million price tag — many scenes feel barren, like there should more people around; could that be due to COVID restrictions? The weirdest story issue is Reynolds being a member of a nebulous government time-travel squad; with all the existential fears about tampering with past events and wiping out the future, it’s never shown or said what these time-travelers actually do. In TimeCop, the creation of time travel spawned criminals who take advantage of the technology, which became a self-fulfilling prophecy since only the people with access to it even know it exists. While that’s essentially the core plot of The Adam Project, there’s a looming shadow of unsubstantiated suggestion that never materializes, like viewers watching the last chapter of a Netflix series who should already know all everything leading up to this final episode.

Because of the lighthearted take, even the silliest references feel more like fan service than ripoff — “Is that a light saber?” — and even the soundtrack has more than a few creative classic choices for some of the better action sequences, including Boston’s “Long Time” (get it?) One-note descriptions of Saldaña and Garner’s characters are elevated because they’re played by Saldaña and Garner. As a result, the film ends up being a vehicle for Walker Scobell to shine, and the cast happily allows him to.

The Adam Project is rated PG-13 for violence/action, language, suggestive references, and that’s the first place you mind goes? So dark!

Three skull recommendation out of four

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