Review: 'The Adam Project' is an irresistible nostalgia trip

"You'll laugh, cry and cheer at this cynicism-free throwback..."

March 11, 2022, 4:11 AM

Nobody does it better than Ryan Reynolds when it comes to taking an action adventure and lacing it with snarky humor and sneaky heart.

"The Adam Project," now streaming on Netflix, owes a sci-fi debt to "Back to the Future. But Reynolds spins the laughs at his own speed.

Having perfected his wise-cracking banter in two "Deadpool" blockbusters, Reynolds recycles it as Adam Reed, a fighter pilot who zips back 30 years to his 2022 boyhood to destroy the concept of time travel that his late father, Louis (Mark Ruffalo), helped invent.

His trip also breaks the rules of parallel contact by bringing Adam face-to-face with his 12-year-old self (Walker Scobell), who is at least his smug equal at sassy backtalk. Scobell claims that he memorized both "Deadpool" movies. It shows. He's a Reynolds mini-Me.

"I've spent 30 years trying to get away from the me that was you," says Adam to his younger self. Fat chance. Young Adam may be emotionally bruised, but the boy has a mouth on him.

When a fellow student torments him at school, the kid takes a licking but not before delivering a verbal punch: "Did you just buy a bully starter kit on Amazon or something?"

You get the picture. And it mostly works because Reynolds and Scobell make a dynamite team. Both are wounded by the untimely passing of their dad, but both are unable to articulate the loss even to their widowed mom, played with sweetness and steel by Jennifer Garner.

Director Shawn Levy, who worked with Reynolds on "Free Guy," brings genuine intimacy to the family scenes as child and man try to heal each other. But "The Adam Project" is soon distracted by a busy narrative that comes off more mechanical than moving.

Suddenly, Adam is reunited with his MIA soldier wife Laura ("Avatar" star Zoe Saldana) and hatching a plan to take down the evil Maya Sorian, a miscast Catherine Keener, who has turned time travel into a salable drug that she's willing to kill for in the name of profit.

Zoe Saldana and Ryan Reynolds in a still from Netflix's "The Adam Project."
Doane Gregory/Netflix

Sorian also has a fleet of robot stormtroopers, who, when shot, explode into a confetti of pixels. It's a shame that the sci-fi elements of "The Adam Project" feel like warmed-over Steven Spielberg epics from the 1980s (think "E.T." and "Indiana Jones") that Levy can't hope to match.

Luckily, "The Adam Project" returns in the knick of time to what matters most: the humanity of its characters.

Ruffalo brings smarts and warmth to the role of a workaholic scientist who regrets the time he didn't spend with his wife and son. The flashbacks to 2018 are a reunion for Ruffalo and Garner, whose 2004 cult hit "13 Going on 30" still brings on the feelies.

Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo in a still from Netflix's "The Adam Project."
Doane Gregory/Netflix

It's hard to imagine a parent who won't relate when Adam embraces his father with the understanding and lack of resentment that only comes from hindsight. Talk about wish fulfillment. Not since another 1980's hit, "Field of Dreams," has a movie tapped so shamelessly into the bond between father and son. Bring tissues.

Yes, "The Adam Project" falls into sentimental traps, and, yes, it coasts down well-worn roads instead of paving new ones with fresh imagination. But you'll laugh, cry and cheer at this cynicism-free throwback to ‘80s family entertainment. As a nostalgia trip, it's irresistible.