Backtalk to the future
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Backtalk to the future

SOCIAL & LIFESTYLE
Backtalk to the future
From left, Ryan Reynolds as Big Adam, Mark Ruffalo as Louis Reed and Walker Scobell as Young Adam in The Adam Project. Photo: DOANE GREGORY / © 2022 Netflix

Early in The Adam Project, a pipsqueak asthmatic named Adam (Walker Scobell) and his golden retriever gallivant through the woods among shimmering falling debris. The cause of the wreckage, Adam learns, is a time jet that was crash-landed by his older self (Ryan Reynolds) travelling from the future. This is pure 80s sci-fi pastiche for the ages. Add a few flying saucer chases, cook up a quickie solution to the grandfather paradox, and this movie might have fallen at the intersection of E.T. and Back To The Future.

Instead, The Adam Project, directed by Shawn Levy, might as well be called "The Ryan Reynolds Project". In the summer, Levy and Reynolds teamed up under a different Hollywood juggernaut to deliver clamorous video game flick Free Guy. This new movie (on Netflix) is a comparable package -- noisy and formulaic, but still occasionally enjoyable. Reynolds recycles his trademark twerpy charisma, using quips to punctuate battle scenes that are spiced up with special effects. Mileage for the actor's wise-guy persona will vary -- I've personally had my fill for several lifetimes, with or without time travel -- and it's hard here to separate the movie from the leading man.

This is because Reynolds imbues Adam with such excitable, exhibitionistic energy he might as well be waving jazz hands. Levy and the screenwriters, Jonathan Tropper, T.S. Nowlin, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin, have crafted in The Adam Project a vehicle that enables Reynolds to multiply his shtick by two. By allying Adam with himself, not only can Reynolds poke fun at his adversaries -- "Your outfits are incredible," he gushes at one point to a squad of henchmen -- he can actually mock his own insufferableness.

"You have a very punchable face," he tells Adam the preteen early in their peregrinations. Scobell, for his part, mirrors Reynolds' mien with precision, making the duo feel less like Marty McFly and Doc Brown than twin sidekicks who stumbled into the spotlight.

Their adventure begins when the adult Adam, visiting 2022 from 2050, explains to his kid accomplice that time travel has ruined mankind, and impeding its invention is their only hope. Complicating the mission is Adam's dad, Louis (Mark Ruffalo), a physicist who models traversable wormholes, and Louis' ruthless business associate, Maya (Catherine Keener). How tampering with the past will upset the future -- including Adam's marriage to fellow insurgent Laura (Zoe Saldaña) -- is a mystery that the movie declines to dwell on.

Blissfully under two hours, The Adam Project is no modern classic. But it does benefit from an affecting finale that pays special attention to Adam's strained relationship with his father. Reynolds may play the smart aleck, but beneath Adam's zingers he is compensating for a profound pain, and Louis is critical in activating his son's tender side. It's an unexpectedly sweet note to end on. Or perhaps it's just that after a double dose of wisecracking, some authentic feeling is a welcome respite. © 2022 The New York Times Company

The Adam Project

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Mark Ruffalo, Catherine Keener

Directed by Shawn Levy

Now streaming on Netflix

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