March 10, 2022 10:39:46 am
The Adam Project opens with a younger version of Ryan Reynolds’ character getting pummelled for running his mouth. This is a recurring gag in the film, so while you can legitimately criticise it for a million other things, you can’t call it out for lacking self-awareness. As we all know, Reynolds has decided to exclusively play variations of the same fast-talking jerk in literally every movie that he has appeared in post Deadpool, often prompting the viewer to fantasise about reaching into the screen, grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and begging him to just shut up. This behaviour reached somewhat of a crescendo in his last film, the unbearable Red Notice.
Happily, though, The Adam Project is the rare Reynolds movie that doesn’t make you want to hurl a shoe at someone. It isn’t half as cynical as its fellow Netflix tentpole Red Notice, but it’s also a marked improvement over the star’s previous collaboration with director Shawn Levy—the derivative and dull Free Guy.
The self-awareness certainly goes a long way in making the Ryan Reynolds of it all easier to swallow this time around, even though his insufferable smugness—especially in the early scenes—often threatens to antagonise you yet again. But more than anything else, it’s the film’s significantly warmer tone that cancels out whatever baggage its star comes with.
Unlike Red Notice (or 6 Underground, before it), this isn’t a shameless attempt to capitalise on Reynolds’ screen persona, or sell crates of Aviation Gin. Tonally, The Adam Project has more in common with Peter Quill’s story in the Guardians of the Galaxy, although Levy, I’d imagine, would prefer that we draw comparisons to the Amblin movies of the 80s. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
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The premise is admittedly engaging—a time-travelling pilot from the future crash lands at his childhood home, and runs into his 12-year-old self. This is such a classic set-up, isn’t it? Take away the science-fiction element, and you could mistake it for a Biggles storyline, or that one time Tintin spotted an unregistered plane crashing into the Surrey countryside in The Black Island. Or, to pull a more recent example, how the excavation crew in last year’s terrific period drama The Dig rushed to the rescue of a pilot whose World War II jet had careened into a nearby river.
Reynolds plays the pilot in The Adam Project—a bold career move, considering what went down the last time he jumped into a cockpit. But Adam Reed is no Hal Jordan. For one, he’s much cooler; as evidenced by his refusal to wear a helmet. But also, he’s on a mission. Granted, it’s another of those we-have-to-save-the-world missions, but crucially, his motivations are entirely personal. Not only is he dealing with unresolved daddy issues, he’s also grieving his wife’s death.
Levy does just about enough to flesh Adam out as a person, so that in the moment of truth—which is inevitably a CGI-heavy climactic action sequence—we care enough to root for him. It also helps that the older Adam enlists his younger self to aid him in this quest, and nobody likes to see a child in peril, especially when that child is a carbon copy of a beloved movie star.
Young Walker Scobell is so eerily similar to Reynolds, for a moment I thought that they’d done some digital trickery on his face. While that isn’t true—Scobell’s live-wire performance deserves all the credit—they certainly de-age another character towards the end. I won’t reveal who, but suffice to say that it isn’t convincing. To the point that it reminded me of what they did to Jeff Bridges’ face in Tron: Legacy over a decade ago. We know that the technology has advanced in the last few years—look no further than young Luke Skywalker in The Book of Boba Fett—but someone appears to have cut corners on this film.
Unconvincing de-ageing isn’t the only similarity that The Adam Project shares with Tron: Legacy. At its heart, it is also a story about a man confronting his father and addressing childhood abandonment issues. What made Tron: Legacy a masterpiece—yes, I said it, I meant it, and I’m here to represent it—was its unfiltered ambition, the absence of which is precisely what stops The Adam Project from ever being anything more than just ‘good enough’. The movie isn’t as risk-averse as most of Reynolds’ recent work, but you won’t catch too many people praising it for breaking the mould.
Ultimately, The Adam Project is the kind of movie that will break Netflix viewership records in the first month of release, but will likely be buried under three scrolls of new ‘content’ mere days later. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a mid-week national holiday—you appreciate it in that moment for bringing some respite to your hectic life, but there’s more where that came from.
The Adam Project
Director – Shawn Levy
Cast – Ryan Reynolds, Mark Ruffalo, Walker Scobell, Jennifer Garner, Zoe Saldana, Catherine Keener
Rating – 3/5
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