The Adam Project is kind of sweet, a film about grief that takes its perspective from a 12-year-old and treats it as such, and complicates it with that same character in his 40s still dealing with that grief, as well as a fresh event. The frustrating thing is that it somewhat feels hollow, in no small part due to an undercooked script, direction that feels mostly serviceable, but at times distracted and lacking intimacy, and Reynolds’ simile based quipping and exhausting wit. It all comes in to undercut the emotional poignancy that could potentially come from the film, delivering something that is just generally middle of the road “okay”, without much to really make it worthwhile.
The Adam Project follows 12-year-old Adam (Walker Scobell), a wisecracking, bullied kid who is grieving the loss of his father, Louis (Mark Ruffalo), leaving his mother, Ellie (Jennifer Garner), to try and wrangle her son. However, when Adam’s 40-year-old self (Ryan Reynolds) comes crashing into his life, young Adam is launched into an adventure to help his older self discover the conspiracy behind what happened to his wife (Zoe Saldaña), as well as explore their own grief together.
The film very clearly is operating as a vehicle for Reynolds, the script even working in his typical Deadpool-esque schtick into the dialogue for young Adam. While Reynolds’ mode of comedy has become exhausting as he has done it more and more since Deadpool became his biggest hit and ostensibly blew him up to movie star status, it always does feel natural coming from him, it always feels like Reynolds riffing on some bizarre simile that pops into his brain. When Scobell does it, and this isn’t a knock on Scobell who is rather solid and charming in the film overall, it feels very written out for him, like he is just reading out simile’s that Reynolds prepared for him earlier, making the mode of comedy clash on top of the exhaustion of this extended bit.
In this regard, the script feels overwritten in the dialogue, and occasionally reuses some of the jokes from Reynolds’ other movies (gotta love a “superhero landing” joke, right?), yet it feels underwritten in the actual construction. The film is consistently hitting these familiar beats from all kinds of movies of its ilk, and pulling them together into one big conglomeration, with less of the finesse that the other films have. It doesn’t have the capability to bring it all together, while also delivering a satisfying, thematic narrative, though not from lack of trying, and its issues all comes to a head during second act. It really does feel like the script begins to run out of steam towards the midpoint, despite its best efforts, coming to a standstill, out of ideas of how to flesh out this story, throwing in several underwhelming action scenes before Mark Ruffalo enters and somewhat revives the film. It just feels at a loss as to how to progress the story and evolve its thematic core, almost feeling like the film has become somewhat exhausted too. The film is never bad, per se, but just never really delivers either, it’s fairly entertaining but generally lacklustre.
This is Levy’s wheelhouse, delivering these entertaining family fares, having directed Cheaper by the Dozen, the Night at the Museum trilogy and being one of the primary producers and directing eight episodes of Stranger Things, yet so often with this film he feels like he misses the mark. The comedy often feels off, undercutting the drama of the situation, the adventure feels lacking in energy, only rising during the action sequences, which are more often than not, pretty lacking in its construction, except for the one at the midpoint, which is probably the most exciting the film gets (Saldaña going all out in an action scene is never not fun), and the emotionality generally feels underserved. His sense of wonderment and comedy feels all wrong here. It’s pretty solidly shot, for the most part, Levy is a veteran director at this point so it is to be expected, it is functional but just unremarkable in his handling of genre and content.
The frustrating thing is though that the film is so close to nailing what it wants to do on an emotional level, yet just misses the mark. Near the middle of the first act, the older Adam is sitting in a bar, and watches his mother walk in, and start talking about her frustrations with her son. Adam who has already expressed his own frustration with his younger self, pipes up and talks to Ellie. Gone is all of Reynolds’ comedic sense, and what’s left is this emotionally grounded conversation that really hits every heartstring that it is trying to, with really great force. And the infuriating bit is it doesn’t work because it feels unearned. When surrounded by scenes that feature constant emotional undermining by comedy, it doesn’t have that same punch that it should have. There are scenes like this that have this earnest, honest heart to it throughout the film, but they constantly feel underserved because they are undermined by this need to belittle and cut in with the comedy. These scenes are often great reminders of how great of an actor Reynolds can be, of how Levy has been able to tap into the emotional core in his comedies or fantastical adventures, yet so much of the film feels like it is working to undermine that for a quick laugh, that these emotional beats don’t feel satisfying as much as they should.
If you enjoy Ryan Reynolds’ specific brand of comedic quipping and commenting, and you haven’t been totally burnt out by it, then you’ll likely have a pretty good time with The Adam Project. It’s not necessarily a bad film, it does feel like there is something here, but never really rises to the occasion and really is able to bring it to life, but there is enough here for a decently entertaining time. It is sweet at its core, and really does have the best intentions. It really comes together as a pretty middling, though mildly entertaining, sci-fi adventure. It never really rises above okay, but it has some fun moments and its earnestness will probably win some people over.
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