The Adam Project is about a guy time-traveling back to meet himself as a kid, which is perfect because it's basically a trip back to the family adventures of the 1980s.
Starring Ryan Reynolds as a time traveling pilot and directed by Shawn Levy, the movie takes the old cliche about what you’d tell your younger self and adds PG-13 snark, space action, “Guardians of the Galaxy” energy, a megalomaniac businesswoman, a dead father and a lost love to the mix. And it’s pretty satisfying popcorn fare with some genuinely affecting beats. All that’s missing is some Harry Chapin.
It's a fast-moving, family-friendly sci-fi romp reteaming Reynolds with director Shaun Levy after last year's hit Free Guy, and it has a lot of that same infectious energy. Zoe Saldana, Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Garner also star.
Newcomer Walker Scobell plays the young Adam, a weedy wiseass who's basically a magnet for bullying. Less than 10 minutes into the film, he's exploring the woods with a flashlight, putting us solidly into ET territory. But instead of a good-natured alien, he finds an injured Reynolds, who knows rather a lot about him. The pair trade quips as Reynolds once again does his exasperated smart-ass thing (familiar from Deadpool as well as various Netflix flicks like Red Notice and 6 Underground). Only this time, the buddy comedy bounces off a pint-size mirror image.
This visitor from the future has brought some unwelcome guests, and cue some flashy fight scenes with Reynolds stylishly kicking ass. There's a lot of fun to be had with his futuristic not-a-lightsaber weapon, though it all feels a bit low-stakes as the endless platoon of faceless bad guys just evaporate in bright colors like video game sprites turning into showers of coins. Still, that makes it suitable for the little ones to watch alongside older kids and parents, all of whom should find something to enjoy.
Probably the film's biggest strength is the amount of time it spends establishing the emotional stakes. Before the bad guys start shooting, The Adam Project explores how young Adam is dealing with the loss of his father. A scene in which Reynolds meets his mom, played by Garner, is given room to breathe, and the result is that the rest of the film's fast-paced action is underpinned by genuine warmth. Saldana and Reynolds also share some heartbreaking moments, though Saldana is criminally underused (and this is one of those films where you wonder if the secondary character's off-screen story might not have been more interesting than the main character).
It's a nice detail that the timey-wimey explanation of how time travel works also ties into the emotion. From Looper to The Tomorrow War, every time travel movie has to come up with some silly explanation for why people remember stuff (or don't remember stuff) or why people's actions change things (or don't change things). In this case, there's some fluff about fixed points in time, but that also means everyone has a special place. It's a neat example of taking a bit of plot logistics and making it part of the emotional theme.
Of course, nobody really cares about the time travel stuff. Apart from a throwaway line about the Terminator, it's never explained with any conviction why the future is so terrible, which makes it hard to care about the running round and saving the world. Catherine Keener does some compelling stuff as a villain who acts as the devil on the shoulder of her own younger self, even if her who-cares evil scheme is basically the plot of Back to the Future 2.
While the action and whizbang visual effects are pretty lightweight -- and the script glosses over its own sci-fi concept with barely a wave of a not-quite-lightsaber -- The Adam Project is frothy fun as Reynolds, Ruffalo and Saldana bicker genially. And this entertaining family adventure is anchored by real emotion as the time-traveling family grapples with love and loss. If your kids want some zippy sci-fi action and you need a break from superheroes, The Adam Project is worth making time for.