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film review

Zoe Saldana as Laura and Ryan Reynolds as Big Adam in The Adam Project.Netflix

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The Adam Project

Directed by Shawn Levy

Written by T.S. Nowlin, Jonathan Tropper, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Garner

Classification PG; 106 minutes

Streaming on Netflix starting March 11

Speed is a bad filmmaker’s best friend. Take The Adam Project, the latest original-in-name-only Ryan Reynolds project from Canadian director Shawn Levy (Free Guy).

The film, a homage/gentle rip-off of such 1980s sci-fi adventures as The Last Starfighter and Back to the Future, moves so fast and with such a relentless energy that there is almost no time to realize how shoddy the whole thing is. Ideally consumed while accomplishing myriad household tasks (why yes, this is a Netflix movie), The Adam Project is built to hold your attention only for so long as you don’t start to wonder why you don’t just queue up one of the film’s many, better inspirations instead.

Opening in the year 2050 before quickly jumping back to 2022, the movie follows time-travelling pilot Adam (Reynolds), who must team up with his younger tweenage self (Walker Scobell) and his late scientist father (Mark Ruffalo) to help prevent a disastrous future. To say more would spoil the film’s soft-pretzel-logic twists, most of which come face-to-face with familiar time-travel paradoxes only to say, “So what?”

Walker Scobell as Young Adam and Ryan Reynolds as Big Adam in The Adam Project.Doane Gregory/Netflix

Maybe this is the result of T.S. Nowlin’s initial spec script, first optioned a decade ago, going through the hands of three other writers. Or maybe coherency is a casualty whenever Reynolds is around, given that most of the dude’s films have the tendency to contort themselves around his super-smarm shtick (or what my film-critic colleague Bilge Ebiri over at Vulture so neatly summarizes as the actor’s “fundamental insincerity”). Whatever the cause, the result is depressingly familiar and faux-engaging.

But credit where credit is due: Levy assembles a remarkably overqualified cast, including Ruffalo (believable as an exasperated dad trying to compensate for his workaholism), Jennifer Garner (as Adam’s harried mother), Zoe Saldana (as Adam’s time-travelling wife) and Catherine Keener, who gets an honest-to-goodness villain role (times two, as she appears with her younger-via-CGI self).

Plus: Scobell is frighteningly good at aping Reynolds’s ain’t-I-a-stinker vibe, so much so that at times you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s a wholly digital creation. That’s not the case, though everything else in The Adam Project might as well be algorithmically produced. It is fast-food fantasy, artificially flavoured and quickly devoured.

Director Shawn Levy assembles a remarkably overqualified cast for The Adam Project.Doane Gregory/Netflix