Emotion trumps science in this time-travel thriller

Ryan Reynolds’ time-traveling fighter pilot teams up with his 12-year-old self for a mission to save the future in The Adam Project.

In the time-travel thriller The Adam Project, Ryan Reynolds reunites with Shawn Levy, his director on last year’s video game rom-com Free Guy (nominated for an Oscar for visual effects, aka the popcorn-movie category).

But Reynolds/Levy isn’t the most noteworthy pairing in the film, which centers on Adam Reed (Reynolds), a fighter pilot from the year 2050 who travels backward in his “time jet” to the year 2022 during a rescue mission, teaming up with his 12-year-old self (Walker Scobell). Scobell makes for a funhouse-mirror reflection of Reynolds, a smart-alecky and asthmatic bullying victim who is a sort of a Mini-Me version of the acerbic, grown-up Adam: somewhere between a PG-13 version of Deadpool and Reynolds’ glibly sardonic art-thief character in Red Notice.

Okay, so “glibly sardonic” describes almost every Ryan Reynolds character: i.e., snarky, larky, and full of malarkey. It’s a pleasure, though, to watch Reynolds and Scobell play off each other, with one character bringing the wisecracking wisdom of hindsight to the dynamic, and the other acting more than slightly chagrined to see what he grows up to become.

As for the whole time-travel thing, there are some logic holes, as there always are whenever characters meet past or future versions of themselves, or mess with the timeline (also known as the Butterfly Effect).

At one point, there are three versions of Reynolds’s character, all at different ages, and all living in the same moment. There are also two versions of Catherine Keener, who plays Maya, Adam’s nemesis from the future, as well as Maya’s younger self (created via a not-especially-convincing bit of digital deepfake wizardry).

True to his glib self, Adam has a catchall answer for the plot conundrums, such as: If middle-aged Adam is the grown-up version of the 12-year-old Adam, does Big Adam from the future retain a memory of meeting Little Adam in the past? It’s a good question. But the answer, as contributed by writers Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin, T.S. Nowlin, and Jonathan Tropper, is nonsensical. In the future, Adam explains, the “prevailing wisdom” in the field of time travel science is that, once you return to your “fixed time” — that is, the time you were meant to inhabit — your mind erases any memories of what happened to you outside that time.

How convenient. Or, rather, how inconvenient, considering the film uses time travel as a form of high-tech family therapy.

In addition to Adam’s rescue mission, which is best left unexplained except to say it involves Zoe Saldaña, there’s a second narrative involving a reconciliation with Adam’s father (Mark Ruffalo), who happens to be the inventor of time travel, not to mention a little too wrapped up in his work. That’s actually the more satisfying of the two story threads and involves less suspension of disbelief than the action sequences, which involve a lot of chase scenes, special effects, and futuristic weapons, including a lightsaber-like thing.

In that regard, The Adam Project is reminiscent of the 2000 film Frequency, a surprisingly satisfying time-travel-adjacent thriller and murder mystery in which a man (Jim Caviezel) uses ham radio — tapping into the past via an electrical disturbance caused by the aurora borealis — to talk to his dead father (Dennis Quaid). The (pseudo-)science in both films is secondary to the interpersonal drama, whose themes of yearning for a lost connection are especially resonant.

The Adam Project isn’t especially smart, but it does leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling. Its science grade is only passing, but its emotional IQ is above average. 

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