In 2021, Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) teamed up with director Shawn Levy (Stranger Things, Night at the Museum) for Free Guy, an unlikely hit about a bank teller who discovers that he’s actually a character in a video game. Put simply, Free Guy was far better than it had any right to be, thanks to its cleverly executed premise and Reynolds’ considerable charisma.
The duo have teamed up again for Netflix’s The Adam Project. This time around, Reynolds plays a time-traveling fighter pilot who crashes in the year 2022, and must team up with his 12-year-old self to prevent time travel from destroying the future. The film has all of the earmarks of a Ryan Reynolds movie, with quips aplenty, but the trailer also suggests something quite a bit more family-friendly and nostalgic.
Have Reynolds and Levy recaptured the unique magic that elevated 2021’s Free Guy? Read on to see what critics are saying about the duo’s latest endeavor.
The rules the film follows will largely be familiar to anyone who’s seen similar titles The Adam Project draws inspiration from. Big Adam and Young Adam’s dynamic is a greater focus in the script and their relationship with their parents is the movie’s emotional core. Young Adam is a nuisance for Ellie, treating her poorly as she tries to keep her head above water. In contrast, Big Adam harbors strong animosity towards Louis. Conversations between the two Adams help them see things from a different perspective, fueling poignant and effective arcs. The sci-fi elements are an entertaining backdrop for a story that’s about something much more, allowing The Adam Project to pull at the heartstrings.
When this time travel story is at its best, it gives Reynolds space to convey the frustration one can have about their past, including when facing their younger self. The movie doesn’t fill out this concept with too much imagination about time travel or villains, but it does wind up with a powerful parable about healing.
Overall, The Adam Project suffers from many of the same flaws that have characterized a lot of Netflix’s recent high-profile projects: plenty of sizzle but little in the way of substance. The premise is intriguing and the cast is top-notch but, taken as a whole, The Adam Project comes up short. As a way to fill an unpretentious couple of hours, it’s fine (especially as part of a bigger streaming package), but as a destination film, it’s a disappointment.
The Adam Project is a fun movie that has great names attached. But, to be frank, it wouldn’t be as great without those A-listers. This film wouldn’t have had the same impact with a group of unknown actors. It’s so fast-paced there’s no time to develop a sense of emotion for these characters. Do we love them, do we hate them? Whose side are we on? We immediately root for Big Adam because it’s Ryan Reynolds. We don’t question Adam’s mission, even though he’s already broken laws, because it’s Ryan Reynolds. Director Shawn Levy knew what he wanted because he got a cast that delivers on all fronts.
It’s a glossy bauble of a caper that uses time travel as a frame for action that’s staged as effusively as the demolition in a Road Runner cartoon. For a few scenes, the movie is Top Gun in the northwest. Then it’s a Star Wars ninja video game with adult Adam using a double-sided industrial light saber to fend off an army of metal droids that he reduces, with each saber slash, to orange-pink psychedelic powder. And once the characters return to the pivotal year of 2018, it becomes an absent-daddy bonding movie (more Spielberg!) with Adam’s late physicist father, played as a scruffy volatile professor by Mark Ruffalo, alive and well, which he needs to be because he’s the scientist who invented time travel.
Like Free Guy, Adam hangs a lot on Reynolds’ rat-a-tat banter and a winky awareness of all the multiplex tropes it’s tweaking, even as it drills down on the all-you-need-is-love message at its squishy center.
Enjoyment of The Adam Project will depend heavily on one’s tolerance for Reynolds’ well-established schtick, seeing as its doubled here into two schticks bouncing off each other. As in, nerdy Adam marvels at buff adult Adam’s muscles and is massively relieved that he one day gets laid. If the lilt of a tamer Deadpool or, of course, Free Guy are your thing, then The Adam Project will be more of your wheelhouse.
Like Red Notice, it’s another project taken off Paramount’s hands during the pandemic. Tom Cruise was replaced with Reynolds. And, here, the star reunites with Free Guy’s Shawn Levy, now apparently one of the few directors allowed large budgets to make original films. The tone here aims for a vague combination of time-travelling romps like Back to the Future and Flight of the Navigator plus time-travelling weepies like Forever Young and The Lake House. It wears both those tones unconvincingly, like a serial killer in a skin suit.
The Adam Project deftly balances the action with the comedy inherent in conflict between the two Adams. Both versions of Adam are exceptionally good at getting on the nerves of everyone around them, and it’s fun to see how they are at the same time irritated by and appreciative of each other’s smart-aleck comebacks. Big Adam does not want to be reminded about how unhappy and angry he was as a 12-year-old. Young Adam is as thrilled at the prospect of growing up to look like Ryan Reynolds as he is to learn that there is such a thing as time travel and ride in a real space ship. He does not understand how unhappy and angry his future self is, but we do.
Reynolds re-teams with his Free Guy director Shawn Levy for a second straight winning blend of comedy, thriller and CGI actioner, and he’s in prime quip-and-rip form. But the breakout star of The Adam Project is young Walker Scobell, who plays the adolescent version of Reynolds’ character and does a remarkable job of capturing Reynolds’ trademark speech mannerisms and rapid patter. This is a fully realized performance that goes beyond the novelty of a kid doing a stunt-impersonation of a famous actor, as Reynolds and Scobell display true buddy-movie chemistry.
The main problem with The Adam Project isn’t so much that its themes and plotting recall other, better movies, though there is certainly some of that. It’s that the movie isn’t smart or ambitious enough to meaningfully engage with the ideas that would make it stick in the minds of viewers. There’s not much applied intellectual rigor here, no convincingly carved dramatic through lines that speak to who these characters actually are.
This movie is not entirely worthless. Reynolds and Scobell have amusing chemistry together that evokes a lot of ’80s buddy comedies in a fresh way; here is a movie about the tired trope of mismatched partners where the mismatched partners are actually the same person. And I was particularly moved by Mark Ruffalo’s big speech to the Adams at the end of the film. A movie that was really invested in the connection between this father and his son could have been very special. But this is not that movie.
The Adam Project is currently streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer below.