It's already a tough job trying to jump across time while evading Discount Stormtroopers, but now Adam has to come face-to-face with the adolescent version of himself that he's tried to forget about for so long. Ask Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis, it's no picnic when older and younger versions of one person collide. But maybe this mismatched duo can save the world and confront the past that haunts them both.
The Adam Project's greatest fault is how relentlessly lazy it is. Despite having an interesting starting point for its premise, director Shawn Levy and a quartet of screenwriters proceed to take this story in creatively stagnant directions. This includes the personality of 12-year-old Adam. One would think the point of a time travel movie involving older and younger versions of one person would be to emphasize how different one is at various points in their life. Think of the moment in Back to the Future where Marty McFly encounters a drastically unexpected teenage version of his father, George. That wouldn't be nearly as funny if George was just a teenage replica of his middle-aged self.
Unfortunately, 12-year-old Adam is just a miniature Ryan Reynolds, complete with Walker Scobell doing an impression of the actor's non-stop sarcastic quips. This schtick can get old when Reynolds is doing it, so you can imagine how tiresome this routine gets in the hands of a youngster. It's a lazy choice that's also stunningly miscalculated, the rapport between the two Adam's immediately came across like a single person just talking to themselves. Meanwhile, this also eschews the chance to have some variety between the two lead characters of the story. All it does is remind people of movies they've already seen before, a problem that gets exacerbated to groan-worthy degrees when young Adam recreates a joke from Deadpool, complete with a reaction shot from his older self. Rather than use the time travel gimmick to create fun new scenarios, The Adam Project is content to just rehash the past.
Meanwhile, the script's generally gloomy disposition is an incredible drag. The Adam Project desperately wants to tug on your heartstrings, to the point that every other scene turns into characters channeling their inner Vin Diesel by going into extended monologues on the value of family. This falls apart for a multitude of reasons. For starters, when everything is trying to be poignant, nothing ends up poignant. Put it this way: Toy Story 3's ending wouldn't be nearly as effective if every preceding scene had involved Andy giving his toys away. Even worse, so much of it is built on stuff we're told but not shown. This is especially true of older Adam's resentment towards his absent father. Since Louis is dead once the story starts, we don't get to see the childhood events that would've molded all this bottled-up angst.
It's no surprise that the most successful instance of poignancy in The Adam Project comes in a tavern chat between Ellie and adult Adam since at least that's built on the strained mother/son dynamic that the audience has been privy to. Otherwise, The Adam Project's attempts to tug on the heartstrings mostly just result in didactic dialogue. The constant emphasis on schmaltz lends a weirdly downbeat vibe to the whole affair and makes it hard to get invested in characters that this production wants you to cry over. Other features, like The Muppet Movie, deliver a steady stream of gags and entertainment and then sneak up on you with the reveal that you've become emotionally invested in the on-screen characters. The Adam Project, by contrast, is all sentimentality, but no fun. Who wants that in a time travel movie starring Deadpool?
The attempts at faux-PIXAR pathos are complimented by a swarm of generic sci-fi action sequences, complete with futuristic soldiers and vehicles that eschew bright primary colors in favor of subdued steel and grey hues. Even the sound effects for the weapons and ships from the year 2050 end up evoking other movies by sounding alternately like the live-action robots from Transformers transforming or modes of transportation from Star Wars. The obligatory fight scenes are often set to 1970s and 1980s tune with the word time in the title, like Led Zeppelin's "Good Time/Bad Time." I know Guardians of the Galaxy popularized these kinds of needle drops in blockbusters, but they don't make much sense here. Neither version of Adam has a connection to 1970s and 1980s pop culture or even existed in that era, nor is this music a key part of Louis's background. Meanwhile, none of the tracks are incorporated into their respective sequences interestingly enough to justify their presence. You can blame the latter problem partially on Levy's sloppy and unimaginative framing of the various skirmishes.
Tragically, good songs from bands like Boston are here used simply because The Adam Project isn't capable of coming up with its own cool ideas. Levy and company are content to just remind people of other superior motion pictures and hope that's enough to carry the day. This is even felt in Rob Simonsen's score, which strains so hard to evoke the sound of compositions by John Williams that it's embarrassing. Among the scarce distinctive elements here is Catherine Keener getting saddled with both a terrible wig and equally atrocious CG de-aging. Please, someone in Washington D.C. outlaw digitally de-aging actors outside of The Irishman. On a happier note, a rare piece of original entertainment here can be found in Alex Mallari Jr.'s performance as evil henchman Christos. He's got an unabashedly silly and over-the-top demeanor that the rest of The Adam Project sorely lacks. Everyone else is so dour and yet here comes Mallari Jr. yelling to a supporting character to get their "bitch-ass husband outside now!"
It's fun to watch the works of Rian Johnson and see how he conveys such passion for certain genres (murder mysteries, noirs, time-travel tales, etc.) while taking them in unexpected but fun directions. The Adam Project is the inverse of that. While trying to evoke so many beloved blockbusters of the past (and also the climactic location of the dismal Terminator: Genisys, for some reason), The Adam Project ends up most resembling the Pokemon Ditto in how it's only capable of surface-level mimicry. Rather than being a fan of older pop culture, The Adam Project is more conscious of how popular Amblin features, Guardians of the Galaxy, and poignant family movies are and wants some of that action. Not once does it consider why those films were so good to begin with. I guess nobody involved in this woe begotten blockbuster had any time to think of that.