Given the classic status of Back to the Future, it's surprising that more time-travel movies haven't gone for the personal angle. Most of them seem primarily interested in trying to bend audiences' minds by playing around with the paradoxes. That's what makes The Adam Project so appealing. The story has all the time-hopping action you'd expect, but it's grounded in genuine emotion. I did not expect to get choked up twice during the movie.
Ryan Reynolds is Adam Reed, a pilot from the year 2050. He has to go back to 2018 in order to find his missing wife Laura (Zoe Saldana) and prevent corrupt businesswoman Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener) from weaponizing time-travel. After being injured, Adam accidentally ends up in 2022, where he recruits his 12-year-old self (Walker Scobell) into helping him complete the mission. (The injury prevents his DNA-coded spaceship from responding to his commands.) Young Adam is consistently rude to his mother Ellie (Jennifer Garner), and both are mourning the loss of his scientist father Louis (Mark Ruffalo) a year-and-a-half prior.
The Adam Project is very much rooted in Reynolds' style of humor. He once again plays a wisecracking guy. The difference this time is that the constant sarcastic quips are more than just a random source of comedy. It's a key plot point that Big Adam finds Young Adam incredibly annoying because of the exact same smart-aleck tendencies he possesses as an adult. The movie mines big laughs from the idea of a guy essentially annoying himself. Scobell was a real find. He not only looks like a young Reynolds, he also has the ability to replicate his co-star's timing.
Action scenes, including space battles and a few Earth-bound chases and shootouts, are scattered throughout the film, to good effect. Director Shawn Levy (Free Guy) puts pop songs under a couple of them. Even if the lyrics don't remotely fit what's taking place onscreen, the energy of those songs helps to amp up the fun. And, of course, the story ends with a great big, over-the-top action scene that's completely preposterous, yet still amusing because of the scientific properties it takes clever advantage of.
The best part of The Adam Project isn't the action or comedy, it's the family drama. More than once, the movie taps into themes about parents and children that are touching. Big Adam, for example, warns Young Adam about being too sassy toward Ellie, telling him that the memories of how he treats her will haunt him as an adult. Another beautifully-written scene finds Big Adam meeting Ellie in a bar. She has no idea who he is, but the words of advice he gives her strike a chord. It's no spoiler to say the mission entails paying a visit to Louis prior to his death, so that tugs at your heartstrings, as well. If you don't get misty-eyed at Ruffalo's last scene in the picture, there might be something clinically wrong with you. These factors lend weight to the film, allowing us to care more about Adam's mission to stop Maya, the details of which are admittedly a little thin.
The Adam Project doesn't have the perfectly calibrated script that Back to the Future did. One or two sizable plot holes exist, and the weaving between comedy, action, and drama isn't accomplished as seamlessly. Not many movies can achieve the perfection that Robert Zemeckis's 1985 classic did, though. Having a time-travel movie that cares as much about the people as it does about the machinations of moving through time is rare, and certainly more than sufficient to make The Adam Project worth spending 106 minutes with.
out of four
The Adam Project is rated PG-13 for violence/action, language and suggestive references. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.