What would you say if you could go back in time and talk to your 12-year-old self? Something like, “Look, kid, you do not grow up to be rich, famous or a rock star — but you do have a family and a very fulfilling life, it does get better, just hang in there, lil’ slugger”? Would you urgently yell, “Come with me if you want to live!” and then you each have a really good laugh, because you both agree that The Terminator is, like, totally awesome? (That personal opinion has not changed over the decades.) Maybe you just tell him to buy stock in CerebroChip™, the company that will make the microchips everyone is soon going to have directly implanted in their brains and will, in a few years, replace smart phones as the common, collective conduit for communication, distraction and misinformation. Trust us on this one.
Or maybe you trade insults and goofy banter — because one of you is Ryan Reynolds, and the other is someone who will grow up to be Ryan Reynolds — before explaining that your late dad invented time travel, and you have to keep his evil business partner from exploiting this discovery before robot stormtroopers attack you and everything goes to hell in whatever they call handbaskets 30 years from now. It’s all good. You do you, Future Ryan Reynolds.
The Adam Project, the new star vehicle from Reynolds and his Free Guy director Shawn Levy, starts out in the year 2050, with everyone’s favorite handsome, stubbly Canadian named Ryan — all apologies, Mr. Gosling — engaging in some Battlestar Galactica-style spaceship dogfights to the tune of the Spencer Davis Group’s 1967 hit “Gimme Some Lovin’.” (There are so, so many confusing, completely random needle drops in this movie, with a soundtrack that suggests the producers picked up some classic-rock compilation at a rummage sale and went, “Fuck it, just use most of Side One.”) The older Adam is trying to rewind his way to 2018, where he can head off a crucial betrayal at the pass. He accidentally ends up in 2022, when his younger self, appealingly played by Walker Scobell, is suffering the slings and arrows of a bullied adolescence. Eventually, after a lot of running around and mutual ballbusting and self-bonding, both Adams will hyperjump back to that glorious year when SpaceX conducted its maiden flight and everyone was mesmerized by a young woman named Cardi B.
But the real time-travel destination of this action/science fiction/comedy/kids’ flick/dessert topping/floor wax is the early to mid-1980s, when movies like The Goonies and Explorers and Back to the Future ruled the multiplex. The throwback vibe is strong with this one, and you can feel how badly this wants to be a Spielberg movie that carbon-dates to some time during the first Reagan administration. (Should you think we’re overselling this notion, take a gander at the poster.) That sense of nostalgia is outmatched only by the goopy sentimentality that keeps getting poured on, which starts from a place of grief, peaks with the older Adam working through issues via his tween self and mother (Jennifer Garner), and jumps the shark once Pops (Mark Ruffalo) re-enters the picture. Put it to you this way: The movie starts out desperately wanting to be E.T. It ends by pretending it’s the second coming of Field of Dreams.
In between being a cinematic short stack soaking up so much syrup, The Adam Project throws out a few other bits of business: some decently staged chases and neato-gadget stand-offs: Reynolds and his similarly wormhole-hopping spouse Zoe Saldana briefly getting hot ‘n’ heavy; Catherine Keener trying to shade in a Villain 101 sketch. You also get some unintentional takeaways — for example, a bad job of digital de-aging one of your actors can definitely be a dealbreaker, and just because you can slap Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times” over a fight scene doesn’t mean you should.
On the plus side, Scobell does nail Reynolds’ back-of-the-classroom-wisecracking cadence, and they’ve definitely establish a rapport that gets this over a long road of bumpy spot. Unlike Red Notice, this isn’t a referendum on the limits of movie stardom, and Reynolds’ schtick in particular. It’s just another expensive-looking blockbuster-lite lurking in your Netflix menu. You’ll see it, possibly enjoy it, and then require your own future self to travel back, many years (or possibly even hours) from the future, and remind you that you’ve already watched it.