By Dwight Brown
NNPA Film Critic
(**) He didn’t come back from the dead. He came from another time and place. 2050. Back to see his younger self in what’s called a “parallel contact.”
That’s the foundation for this generic act/adv/com/sci-fi/fan. It starts with a good idea, then works the very primal emotions of a family in distress and an adult longing to fix his childhood. Surrounding those solid creative instincts are cheesy sci-fi effects (senior special effects technician Brandon Allen) an army of enemy soldiers dressed in cheap, plastic suits (costume designer Jenny Eagan, Knives Out) and a back to the future storyline that’s indistinguishable.
The very jerky, smart-mouthed Ryan Reynolds is loved for his sarcastic wit, dry humor and deadpan delivery. He nearly wears out that welcome in this time-traveling family drama that sends him, as Big Adam, on a mission to save the future from an evil woman. She’s Maya (poorly cast Catherine Keener), who invented a time machine powered by a magnetic processor accelerator with his deceased dad Louis (Mark Ruffalo).
Big Adam lands in a time jet in the middle of a forest (an embarrassingly fake-looking woodland – production designer Claude Paré) next to 12-year-old Little Adam’s (Walker Scobel) home. According to the big boy, if the two don’t work together, Maya could cause a cataclysm.
It’s an awkward yet illuminating meeting. Big Adam: “Jesus Christ Adam, I need you to be cool!” Little Adam: “How do you know my name? You’re wearing my dad‘s watch! You are me. Holy sh–!”
Ensuing plot pieces and machinations mix in with poorly choregraphed fights scenes using passe lasers and power wands. In addition, Reynolds, who fought like a demon in Deadpool, looks clunky in these brawls. Zoe Saldana, as his wife Laura, does too—except when she changes cartridges on automatic weapons like a pro.
If the tone is all wrong and the action scenes are light and silly, blame it on the script and its writing pool: Jonathan Tropper, T.S. Nowlin, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin. Also heap responsibility on director Shawn Levy. He likely used former directing gigs, e.g., Night at the Museum, as a reference point for PG-13 nirvana, when he should have modeled the film after a movie he produced, Arrival. The latter film’s prescient intuition, mysterious special effects and deep emotions would have served this project far better. As would a fight scene choreographer with a real sense of danger and innovation.
For viewers who do this time warp dance, the 1h 46m time frame (editors Jonathan Corn and Dean Zimmerman) is not torture and the cinematography (Tobias A. Schliessler) is decent. The musical score (Rob Simonsen) is fun, and the playlist embellishes at the right time. Starting with the Spencer Davis rock classic “Gimme Some Lovin’” and Stevie Winwood wailing: “Well, my temperature’s rising, and my feet hit the floor…” Which is nicely offset by the softer recurring pop tune “Let My Love Open the Door.”
The most tender and meaningful moments include a family reunion, mom (Jennifer Garner) getting parenting advice in a bar and Big Adam and Laura’s fleeting time together. The most spot-on performances might be that of Garner and Alex Mallari Jr. as Christos, leader of Maya’s security squad. While some may wonder if a stronger child actor (e.g. Gaby Hoffman, C’mon C’mon) had played the lead role as Little Adam would the film feel more grounded?
This fluff will likely appeal more to tweens than teens and young adults. Possibilities for The Adam Project loomed far larger than what’s on screen. And what’s on screen is never a credit to the sci-fi genre. Not a minus. Not a plus.
On Netflix March 11th.
Visit NNPA News Wire Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.