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Madam, he’s Adam — but, wait, so’s he

In ‘The Adam Project,’ on Netflix, Ryan Reynolds plays a man from 2050 who meets his younger self in 2022 (it’s not as confusing as it sounds)

Ryan Reynolds, left, and Walker Scobell in "The Adam Project."DOANE GREGORY/NETFLIX

It’s 2050 and time travel exists. Adam (Ryan Reynolds) steals a super-duper jet to fly through a wormhole and go into the past. He wants to get to 2018 (maybe he’s a Red Sox fan?) but ends up in 2022. That’s where he meets his 12-year-old self (Walker Scobell). Sounds a bit confusing (it isn’t) and breathless (it is).

“The Adam Project,” which is streaming on Netflix, is a bit of a jumble. It blends comedy, sci-fi, action, romance, and, inevitably, domestic drama. Try avoiding family conflict when two of the conflicting parties are the same person and there’s a 28-year gap between him . . . or them . . . or . . . oh, never mind.


With so much going on, that means a lot of balls need to be kept in the air. Some of them drop. Of course they do: “The Adam Project” is entertaining but no masterpiece. What’s unusual, and impressive, is that the dropped balls often keep bouncing. That’s a tribute to the movie’s wit, energy, and imaginativeness.

Walker Scobell, left, and Ryan Reynolds in "The Adam Project."DOANE GREGORY/NETFLIX

“The Adam Project” shares those qualities with one of last summer’s better studio releases, “The Free Guy.” That movie starred Reynolds and was directed by Shawn Levy, who’s the director here. In addition to those qualities, “The Adam Project” is agreeably self-aware. There are winking references to “Back to the Future” and “The Terminator,” both of them predecessors in the time-travel-movie tradition.

The self-awareness is doubly welcome. It helps ensure things never get too serious, even during the movie’s more sentimental moments. It also means Reynolds’s trademark wisenheimer shtick, which is self-awareness on stilts, doesn’t throw things out of whack.

It’s quite funny, actually, seeing Scobell match Reynolds snark for snark. “The child is father of the man,” the poet says, and at least in this case he sure got that right. Last year boasted several impressive performances by child actors — Jude Hill, in “Belfast”; Woody Norman, in “C’mon C’mon.” Scobell, making his movie debut, extends the streak.


From left: Ryan Reynolds, Mark Ruffalo, and Walker Scobell in "The Adam Project."Netflix

Scobell and Reynolds click, as do Mark Ruffalo and Reynolds. Ruffalo plays Adam’s dad; and, yes, there are parenting issues. “I’m not being critical,” Ruffalo explains to an irked Reynolds. “I’m narrating.” In a movie with more than its share of good lines, that may be the best.

You will not be surprised to learn that the issues get worked out. You probably would be surprised to learn that the working out includes a “Field of Dreams” moment that’s far more moving than it has any right to be.

Walker Scobell and Jennifer Garner in "The Adam Project."DOANE GREGORY/NETFLIX

The female characters have less to do — a lot less. You can bet that none of the four scriptwriters (that’s right, four) considered “The Eve Project” as a possible title. Jennifer Garner plays Adam’s mom. You know those Capital One commercials she’s been in? Same difference. Garner does make one notable contribution: The family’s dog is played by her own golden retriever. Zoe Saldaña, as another time traveler (who’s Important in a Way a Reviewer Shouldn’t Reveal), does get to do various Zoe Saldaña things, involving weaponry, fisticuffs, and general don’t-mess-with-her-ness. Catherine Keener, playing the villain, has considerably more fun than either Garner or Saldaña. What a marvelously malevolent voice Keener has. It’s whiskey laced with gasoline. Menacing as it sounded in “Get Out,” it’s that much more so here.


Ryan Reynolds and Zoe Saldaña in "The Adam Project."DOANE GREGORY/NETFLIX

There’s a puzzling thing about “The Adam Project,” and it doesn’t concern all the jiggery-pokery with chronology. In many scenes, the movie is clearly aimed at 12-year-olds. Young Adam gets to do all sorts of things that his peers can only dream of: wielding high-tech weaponry, copiloting a fighter jet (technology in 2050 is linked to DNA, so when old Adam is out of commission only young Adam is enabled to handle the controls).

Yet the fairly frequent coarseness of the language and its suggestiveness just aren’t for kids. Maybe the real giveaway about intended-audience confusion has nothing to do with moral considerations. The boomer musicians who appear on the soundtrack — the Spencer Davis Group, Pete Townshend, Led Zeppelin, Boston — must sound positively . . . elderly to anyone much under 40 (whiskey laced with Metamucil?). Youth, they say, is wasted on the young. A lot of “The Adam Project” is, too. It’s one form of time travel the filmmakers haven’t mastered.



Directed by Shawn Levy. Written by Jonathan Tropper, T.S. Nowlin, Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Walker Scobell, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Garner, Catherine Keener, Zoe Saldaña. Streaming on Netflix. 104 minutes. PG-13 (violence/action, language, suggestive references, a child briefly in serious peril).

Mark Feeney can be reached at mark.feeney@globe.com.