When Terry Gilliam cast Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys he told him he did not want any Bruce Willisisms. I wish some director would have a similar conversation with Ryan Reynolds now. I already talked about this in my review of Red Notice and Free Guy, and 6 Underground and there has been no change. He really needs to do something different again; he seems to have been stuck in Deadpool mode since 2015.
The frustrating thing is that he does have real versatility. You don’t even have to go back to films like Self/Less, Woman in Gold or The Voices, you can see it in this movie. Any moments of emotion or real acting are eclipsed by the quips though. Please Gilliam, give this guy a call.
Rather than waiting to work with the famous ex-Python, Reynolds has re-teamed here with his Free Guy director Shawn Levy and neither man seems keen to shake things up (Levy called the shots on chunks of Stranger Things so he has it in him too yet is still falling back on his Night at the Museum fun over logic approach). The Adam Project is a time travel action film but it’s not going to sit alongside the classics, being more interested in the ride than anything cleverer than that; like you know, time travel. It all looks good but this sure isn’t one where anyone will be debating the paradoxes or alternate realities. The film actually has a little knock at other movies that include things like multiverses but it hasn’t earned the right to be superior about it. Spider-Man is not going to feel the sting.
I think The Adam Project is a marginal improvement on Free Guy because it recognises that it can have fun and take itself seriously at the same time, it has some discipline where this duo’s previous film was all over the place. It has nice character moments, entertaining action beats and some neat effects sequences (not the de-aging, that is ropey) and some of the supporting actors, Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Garner, are committed to the material. Its greatest asset though is twelve year old Walter Scobell who will provide any viewers around that age with a brilliant gateway into the film. If I’d seen this when I was the same age I’d have loved it (but for the fact that when I was this age I had Back to the Future). Actually, as the younger version of protagonist Adam, Scobell does show that Reynolds’ ageing schtick can work if taken back to its adolescence.
The Ripley Factor:
With the exception of Garner, it is the performances from the female cast that feel underplayed, possibly because of what they have to work with. Catherine Keener is very one note as the villain of the piece, despite some clear intentions to make her otherwise. Her evil plan is also completely unexplained and there seems to be an examination of the whole ‘would you kill Hitler as a young man’ conundrum that they totally forgot to examine.
Zoe Saldaña is the ostensible female lead but her part is so poorly developed as to be little more than an extended cameo. She is essentially just a plot device and she has next to no chemistry with Reynolds.
Still, what’s done it done. There’s no changing it.