The Adam Project is a light-hearted, clever, perfectly PG-13 time-travel thread about Adam (Ryan Reynolds), a pilot from the future, who travels through time to prevent [REDACTED] from [REDACTED]ing – only to overtake and end up further in the past than expected. He’s forced, for reasons that don’t stand up to even the lightest moment of reflection, to seek help from his 12-year-old self (a legitimately funny, improvisational Walker Scobell), thus risking precisely the kind of temporal paradox that time travel movies cannot exist without risk.
Understand: When it comes to cinema, no genre is redefined here; no game is modified. But the Netflix movie is a relatively streamlined affair that unfolds at a fast and rewarding pace, wasting little time on the backstory (or backstory, or alternate timeline, for that matter). It manages to feel intimate, as it never leaves its setting in present-day Rainier, Washington, where young Adam and his mother (Jennifer Garner!) share one of those gorgeous glass-walled homes tucked deep in the Pacific Northwest wood that transforms instantly The Adam Project in a two-screen experience, as you’ll find yourself surfing Zillow listings on your phone while you watch. Its cast is terrific and understated (Catherine Keener as the villain! Zoe Saldana as Adam’s (very) close ally! Mark Ruffalo as Adam’s father!), and Reynolds and Scobell have easy-going chemistry and not forced.
The film is good – quite good, in fact. It’s a very deliberate, if sometimes overly conscientious, homage to movies like Back to the future, HEY the alien and particularly, Flight of the Navigator. Recommended, if you and your kids are looking for something to spend a gray March weekend afternoon.
But that’s not what I called you all here to discuss.
Let’s talk about Ryan Reynolds, you and me. And why The Adam Project feels like a small but meaningful – and maybe even hopeful – departure for him.
the Van Wilder effect
Watch: Ryan Reynolds is a star. He is handsome, charismatic, fit and funny.
This magnetic star quality was evident as early as his ABC sitcom, Two guys, a girl and a pizzeria, which debuted in 1998 and lasted four uneven seasons. On this show, he first locked himself into a persona that solidified around him in the 2002 film Van Wilder: The popular guy.
You all remember The Popular Guy from school. He was most likely a sportsman, maybe even a quarterback, but not the meat-headed type who would push you and your fellow nerds into lockers. No, he was the other kind of sportsman, the kind who wasn’t looking for an NFL career, but was only trying to gain some leadership experience and expand his extracurricular activities.
He carried himself with a confidence that he always feared would be mistaken for arrogance or bluster, so he tried hard to stay in control. He made jokes, of course, but was always careful not to put anyone down. The teachers loved him, the students envied him. He was by his first name with the caretaker, with whom he was talking about car racing; the lunch servers slipped him extra tater tots. He went out of his way to get you to sign your yearbook at graduation, even though you never spoke to each other; when you read it later, you found out that he left his number and invited you to his house to swim in his pool during the summer. You knew it was just a cruel prank he and his friends were playing, and you only had one scoop too much self-esteem to ever make that phone call, yet it’s true that the first time you read his note, you were carried away by some kind of stupid excitement, imagining for a magical moment that you had in somehow fundamentally misread the previous miserable four years of high school and okay i realize now that what i’m describing was maybe something less than a universal experience and more of a thing of me so let me get back on track and refocus on my original thesis.
Anyway: Ryan Reynolds, People’s Guy.
Again and again, he chose roles that showcase what comes most easily to him: the witty banter, the playful humor, the insinuating charm. And he’s carefully mixed it with something that comes much less naturally: a sharp self-mockery that we can say is staged, a carefully calculated gamble to win us over and convince us that he’s just a regular guy.
He is of course not; it’s Ryan Reynolds, movie star.
But there’s a difference between choosing roles that suit your gifts and using your gifts to force roles to suit you. The Ryan Reynolds who starred in The Hitman’s Bodyguard and red notice and The Green Lantern and RIPD. and The change up to and 6 Underground and Proposal and the dead Pool movies is essentially the same guy, cracking jokes (or, in the case of the dead Pool films, make references) and rub shoulders with the charm of the trickster.
Movie stars own and operate definable characters, of course. And the actor has certainly made efforts to expand into more grounded territory before (Buried, Woman in Gold). But Reynolds’ growing reliance on his repertoire of easily recognizable acting mannerisms did something.
Too easily and too often, her natural charm can turn into off-putting smarm. His spirit can be read as simple casualness. This arrogance that he is so careful to formulate in a performative and overcompensating self-mockery can escape and reveal itself to the world.
Last year was wildly overworked free guy – Reynolds’ previous association with The Adam Project director Shawn Levy – attempted to fix all of that by having him play a literal computer-generated cipher, a background video game character (just a regular guy, named: Guy) who is enhanced and turned into a hero.
The Adam Project as an acting project
Make no mistake: The Ryan Reynolds on display in The Adam Project is familiar. He’s funny as usual, he’s handsome and buff and charismatic as always.
But the reason his performance works so well is that he doesn’t rush into it, as you’d expect. As a result, the movie looks a little less like the Ryan Reynolds vehicle it was undoubtedly made for. He by no means disappeared into the role of time travel pilot Adam, he just does some slightly less obvious outside work to embody him.
Perhaps it’s a feature that Adam is a smaller, less ancient character than those Reynolds usually analyzes — he’s more driven, sadder. Maybe it’s that the script gives him more time to breathe as an actor, like in a moving scene he shares with Garner at a bar. It’s a scene that’s likely to come across as sentimental, even syrupy, and that’s probably why it lands so nimbly – because we can actually see Reynolds. risk something in it.
It’s also possible that the performance works because much of it exists in the interaction between the two Adams – Reynolds and Scobell. In their many scenes together, Reynolds allows his familiar, horny, outward persona to step back, in order to really listen to the other younger actor, who doesn’t so much steal attention as confidently accepts it. (The kid is great, really.)
There is yet another dead Pool on the way, where Reynolds will call home, Glib ‘n’ SmarmyMT grass. Corn The Adam Projectpleasantly light as it is, gestures toward a career trajectory the actor could enjoy in years to come, after the jawline softens, the tight body inevitably ends, and his signature brilliance wears off. settles into the less laborious confidence of middle age.