Back to the Future made time travel simple. Marty McFly’s fading family photograph was an easy, understandable visual cue that demonstrated exactly how the film’s logic worked. Over the years, though, time travel has become a lot more complicated: take Avengers: Endgame, which just about makes sense as it zips back and forth across Marvel’s timeline.
Now comes Shawn Levy’s The Adam Project, a Netflix adventure that apes the feel of one of Steven Spielberg’s classic Amblin productions, yet falls short of those family-friendly masterpieces. And, unfortunately, a lot of that comes down to time travel.
The opening scene introduces Ryan Reynolds’ Adam, who’s just stolen a spaceship in the year 2050. There are immediate nods to Star Wars (the first of many) as an enemy chases his tail, until Adam hyperspeeds back in time — to the wrong year. He quickly encounters his younger self, played by newcomer Walker Scobell - who may actually be a genetic clone of Reynolds; he’s that good at mimicking the older star’s quippy mannerisms.
The duo are electric on screen together, providing the film with a sturdy anchor as the plot - which sees them trying to save time-control from falling into the wrong hands - gets weighed down by exposition and undercooked characters.
Take, for instance, Zoe Saldana’s Laura, a talented fighter and Adam’s love interest. She’s quickly relegated to being MacGuffin and ends up making little real impact. Catherine Keener plays a one-dimensional villain, despite there being two of her (be warned, the de-aging CGI hits the floor of the uncanny valley). Meanwhile, Alex Mallari Jr.’s Christos is your typical goon, forgotten amid the chaos. Saving graces are Jennifer Garner as Adam’s mother, who’s given one particularly emotional scene with Reynolds (unfortunately delivered at a momentum-losing moment) and Mark Ruffalo as Adam’s father.
Together, Ruffalo and the two Adams are an unstoppable force. Time travel makes little sense in The Adam Project’s world, potentially a side effect of there being four different writers, but the camaraderie between the three leads is impossibly charming. Once you turn your brain off from understanding the intricacies of the central concept, there are bountiful jokes to laugh along with, and an especially tender and worthwhile scene after the climactic fight. Netflix has become home to a few blockbusters in the same ilk — Red Notice, The Old Guard, Army of the Dead — and The Adam Project comfortably joins their ranks.
The Adam Project is on Netflix from March 11. For more, check out the best Netflix movies available to stream right now.