Reuniting star-producer Ryan Reynolds and director Shawn Levy after their winning collaboration on “Free Guy,” “The Adam Project” has the generic feel of a project created by committee, combining action, humor and smart-alecky one-liners in a way that’s at best aggressively okay. That’s probably enough for Netflix coming off a success with Reynolds in “Red Notice,” but like the film’s plot, this amounts to rehashing history.
Reynolds neatly sums up “The Adam Project’s” modest ambitions in the production notes, saying that the concept “ticked every box for us.” That means giving the star a chance to be heroic and funny, while adding a dollop of heart that borders a bit too much on sappiness.
The producers were equally shrewd in the casting, having Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo playing the Reynolds character’s parents, serving up a bonus reunion of the 2004 rom-com “13 Going on 30.”
That said, the central relationship is actually between Reynolds’ Adam and his 12-year-old self, played by Walker Scobell.
Having lost his dad, the young Adam is warned by his mom that “The future is coming sooner than you think,” but that can’t possibly prepare him for what happens next: The elder Adam blasts into our time from 2050, employing time-travel technology to try stopping a villain (Catherine Keener) by altering the past in order to change the future.
The kid not surprisingly has several million questions, and seems amusingly pleased that his scrawny, bullied self has grown up to be an accomplished pilot who’s resourceful in a fight and not incidentally pretty ripped. (Reynolds, of course, played a pilot in “Green Lantern” before another superhero, “Deadpool,” firmly established his current brand.)
“We’ve seen ‘Terminator,’ right?” the older version asks the younger one, capturing the general irreverence toward the science-fiction underpinnings of the enterprise, which rather unabashedly approaches the time-travel aspect as a fertile comedic device and an opportunity to explore heart-tugging moments regarding family and words left unspoken.
The back-from-the-future premise also includes a subplot involving Adam’s lost wife (Zoe Saldaña, adding another Marvel veteran in a smallish role) and leads to some inordinately bad computer-generated de-aging graphics, the kind of shortcoming that’s mildly distracting but easily ignored.
Indeed, the underlying strength of “The Adam Project” is that it keeps serving notice not to overthink things, but rather to sit back and enjoy Reynolds’ banter with his younger self as well as the colorful action.
It’s passable on those terms, but not much more than that, reflecting the pitfalls of Netflix’s current movie strategy, which beyond a handful of prestige awards-seeking titles seemingly consists of attracting big promotable stars and volume, volume, volume.
“The Adam Project” recalls the past in cinematic terms by feeling conspicuously like what used to be dubbed a “B” movie, a genre that no longer has much traction in theaters. The modern twist on that is you needn’t leave home, or directly pay extra, to consume its simple formula, stacked a rather rickety foundation of ticked-off boxes.
“The Adam Project” premieres March 11 on Netflix.