Del reviews ‘The Adam Project

Image courtesy of Netflix.

“The Adam Project” Starring Ryan Reynolds, Walker Scobell, Zoe Saldana, Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo. Directed by Shawn Levy. 1 hour, 46 minutes. Rated PG-13. Netflix.

Del’s take

“The Adam Project” is a perfectly calibrated popcorn flick that pushes all the right buttons. It features a precocious young actor who does not fear the camera, a leading man who can laugh at himself, a leading woman who is tough as the proverbial nails, and a villain as despicable as people who vote a straight party ticket.

In fact, the whole contraption is so finely tuned and calculated that I found myself missing the pop and fizz of 45-rpm vinyl, which is to say it’s a little too polished for my tastes. Oh, it’s a terrific movie and you’ll like it a lot. But the next day you’ll struggle to remember much about it except that you probably should have sprung for a Diet Pepsi to wash down the popcorn.

The story is about the titular Adam (Ryan Reynolds), who steals a spacecraft and wormholes into the past to prevent a tragedy. Unfortunately he overshoots his destination and arrives at the location and time of his 12-year-old self (Walker Scobell), whom he enlists in trying to save the future. In the process Adam bucks up his long-suffering mom (Jennifer Garner), revisits his dad (Mark Ruffalo) and reunites with his future wife (Zoe Saldana), all while thwarting the evil machinations of his former boss, Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener).

What follows is a thrill-park ride of battling robots right out of “Lost in Space,” dodging anachronisms and revisiting the good old days, none of it very demanding of deeply embedded cognitive skills. And you know what? That’s OK. Sometimes a movie is meant to do nothing more than entertain and “The Adam Project” does that and does it well, like successfully parallel parking an Edsel.

Reynolds is perfection as the wisecracking, flummoxed-when-he-should-be Adam, but more impressive is young Scobell, who matches Reynolds snark for snark and even looks like Reynolds, maybe if you squint. Garner is effective as the suffering mom, and Ruffalo is pretty funny in his role as the absent father who must re-learn his priorities if young Adam is to avoid the awful fate of growing up to become old Adam. Less effective, I thought, was Saldana as Adam’s future wife, Laura, who seems perpetually pissed-off. I mean, the fate of the world hangs in the balance and everybody’s trading witty remarks except ol’ buzz kill Laura, who just wants to stab things.

As a story “The Adam Project” keeps its focus on the action, not the novelty of time travel. “Peggy Sue Got Married” and “Back to the Future” both staked their claim on nostalgia – cars with tail fins, ’50s music and fond memories of the people who created and financed those movies. But in “Adam” nostalgia remains a sideshow to the primary conflict between Adam and Maya, and Adam’s desire to reconnect with his wife. It’s nice to see Mom and Dad getting along.

Predictably the movie has received high marks from the public. It’s one of those stories that requires nothing more of its audience than an hour and 46 minutes of their time, a big tub of buttered popcorn and maybe a healthy tolerance of the absurd. Nothing wrong with any of those things, except maybe the popcorn. Pop a Zantac and you’ll be fine.

As I watched it, however, I felt like I was taking a ride through a Universal Studios attraction, where every twist, turn and visual is calculated just so by mountains of data, algorithms and public feedback. Can you complain about a movie being too perfect? Maybe I should just shut my mouth.

I’m giving “The Adam Project” a B+. It’s funny, entertaining, and every now and again touches the heart. It’s a Diet Pepsi in lieu of champagne.

But then, who drinks champagne with popcorn?

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

“Tenet” Starring John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kenneth Branagh, and others. Directed by Christopher Nolan. 150 minutes. PG-13. Pay-per-view on YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime, Vudu, DVD.

Del’s take

In my dodderage I’ve become less enamored of puzzle boxes, Russian dolls, hidden meanings, subtext within subtext, Rubik’s cubes and other gimmicks, tricks, deflections and distractions – anything capable of making me believe something that isn’t true. We live in an age Qanon, ignorance on an industrial scale, conspiracy theories, corporate subterfuge and red hat-wearing politicians who not only lie shamelessly but revel in their malevolent deceit. Is it asking too much of a movie to just be a freaking movie and entertain me for a couple of hours instead of making me do a bunch of work?

I spent $15.99 on the “Tenet” DVD and I really, really wish I could get that money back. “Tenet” is well made and several of the performances are excellent, but it’s unwatchably dense and about as warm as a guest at the county morgue.

I can’t effectively summarize the plot because I’m still not sure I understand it. John David Washington is a CIA agent who, after an attack at a Russian opera performance, is recruited into an effort called “Tenet.” (Did I mention none of the characters have names?) Tenet is a war between us and the future. We have doomed the future with climate change, and the future is not happy about it. Future scientists have invented a way to “invert” the entropy of people and objects, allowing them to travel backward in time. Instead of using this inversion nonsense to head off climate change, the future would track down a cache of plutonium pilfered from a Russian ICBM … for what purpose? We don’t know. Is plutonium what they’re really looking for? We don’t know. What’s this about “The Algorithm” – has Facebook also pissed off the future, or is The Algorithm some kind of world-ending secret weapon invented by a future scientist and hidden in the past? Well, we don’t know, but since they bring it up. …

It’s a migraine-inducing onion of riddles hidden within paradoxes layered with feints and false flags, and to be honest I found it exhausting and unrewarding.

What’s good about “Tenet” is the cinematography, the locations, costumes, and some of the performances. Washington is excellent as the CIA agent and in my book would make a fine replacement for Daniel Craig when all those catalogs for Medicare start showing up in his mailbox. Also excellent were Robert Pattinson as Washington’s sort-of partner and Elizabeth Debicki as the suffering wife of a wicked Russian oligarch who may or may not be trying to acquire The Algorithm for his own demented death-bed purpose.

What I did NOT like about “Tenet” was the blink-your-eyes-and-miss-critical-plot-points narrative, the mumbled and often indecipherable dialogue, the lack of any pathos (which is typical of Christopher Nolan’s fare) and the unfathomable density of the plot. It seems Nolan is making movies for himself, not his audience.

After everything that has happened the past four years, my brain is only capable of processing movies like “Hobo with a Shotgun” or “The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot.” I would need a few less pandemics, insurrections and climate catastrophes before I could enjoy “Tenet.”

If acting and cinematography were the only criteria I could give “Tenet” an A-. But its hard-to-hear dialogue, lack of an emotional heart and black-hole density bring that grade down to a B. If you’re up for doing the work Nolan seems to ask of his fans, knock yourself out. I wasn’t.

Mladen’s take

Alas, I share Del’s frustration with “Tenet.” Despite his dodderage and, believe me, it’s advanced, he’s correct about the film. “Tenet” is a mess in execution.

Actually, I’m more frustrated than Del because I disliked the suffering wife/doting mother character played by Elizabeth Debicki. She damn near caused the destruction of 7 billion people in our time because she didn’t want her one son to be traumatized by, oh, hell, I forgot the reason.

“Tenet” is based on a neat concept. In this nicely shot film, people are able to move backward or forward in the same space. The spacetime of “Tenet” (the word reads the same backward or forward) can be separated into space and time by scientists from the future, which, as Del notes, are waging war against the present by allying with, and supporting the martyrdom of, a Russian oligarch portrayed beautifully by Kenneth Branagh.

Demonstrating the usefulness of the capability to manipulate time – again, a neat concept – is badly mangled in “Tenet.” Particularly difficult to understand are the “temporal pincer movements” unfolding on the screen as opponents move along the time continuum in which every direction they thought would produce tactical advantage. So, for example, you have cars moving forward and backward in the same lanes. Or, you have one unit of troops starting, executing, and completing a mission and another completing, executing, and starting the same mission on the same battleground. Hell, in this film, a man can fight himself, one version of him being from the present and the other “inverted” or from where, the future? Now that I think about it, there might not be a present, past, and future in “Tenet.” In this film, time is jumbled and coils around itself, like a ball of yarn, rather than being a point-to-point, straight line event. Maybe.

The most annoying part of “Tenet” to me, for some reason, was the film insisting that an “inverted” bullet – that is, a bullet exiting your body in the same direction it had entered (I think) – would cause more damage than a bullet entering your body from the same direction it would exit. Wouldn’t a bullet reversing course and leaving your body return your body to its pre-bullet state? If the phenomenon is someone shooting you who’s inverted – while you’re what, verted? – why would there be damage at all?

I’m tempted to give “Tenet” some slack. The idea of time travelers moving in opposite directions while sharing the same space in a way that affects the outcome of the present and the future simultaneously is far out and wonderful. “Tenet” still has me thinking about time inversion, which is different, apparently, than merely time travel. “Tenet” also has some very good acting. And, I enjoyed the score. It was propulsive. My surround-sound AVR has a separate volume control for the center channel speaker, which broadcasts the dialogue in a film. I was able to listen to the words because I was able to turn-up their volume without also increasing the volume of the many explosions and much gunfire in “Tenet.” Del, I did hear the dialogue but it didn’t help me understand the movie any better.

Finally, “Tenet” was ripe for R-rated action. Yes, not showing graphically a man getting beaten to death with blows to the head using a gold bar is a terrific way of capturing violence. More is left to the imagination. But, much of the movie is loads of people shooting at each other or getting their asses mortar-ed. That would have benefitted from vivid blood splatter, heads disintegrating, and limb amputations. Making “Tenet” PG-13 was an error. This movie is not for teenagers nor will teenagers watch it. “Tenet” pushes toward cerebral. Teens ain’t interested in cerebral on the big screen. They want crude, sexual, and narcissistic, the kind of film one-term, poser president, loser Donald Trump would watch.

“Tenet” is a C because it promises top-notch sci-fi adventure and then fails to deliver.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Warner Brothers.

“Edge of Tomorrow” Starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton. Directed by Doug Liman. 113 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Del’s take

Didn’t Mladen, at some point during one of his hyperbolic rants, swear he’d never see another PG-13-rated movie? Didn’t he say they were all crap?

Well, guess what?

He broke his vow and attended “Edge of Tomorrow,” the latest Tom Cruise sci-fi vehicle, and after the movie was over you should have heard him, squealing like a little girl who’d just been given a peck on the cheek by Justin Bieber. He not only saw another PG-13-rated movie but he loved it.

Mladen, you phony.

His enthusiasm, however, is well-deserved. “Edge of Tomorrow” is a terrific summer movie, carrying the right balance of humor, tension, and spectacle. Your ticket-buying dollars will not have been wasted on this one.

In “Edge of Tomorrow,” an alien race we call “Mimics” has invaded the earth and is swallowing up Europe. Unless they’re stopped, mankind faces the same fate he inflicts on so many animal species of this planet. Cruise’s character, Major William Cage, is sent to the fight despite his credentials as a public information officer for the military. During the battle he kills an “alpha,” a particular kind of alien that, in dying, bestows him with the ability to restart the day each time he dies. (Believe me, there are no groundhogs in this movie, and if there were, they’d all be exterminated.) Through repeating his experiences he’s able to learn and survive a little longer, until he meets up with Sgt. Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who underwent the same experience and learned there’s a very bad alien pulling all the strings. Their mission, which they choose to accept, is to exterminate that alien.

This movie presents so many pluses it’s hard to list them all. The writing is excellent. The dialogue is snappy, at times hilarious, at other times deadly earnest. Pacing, internal logic, respites from tension – they’re all handled with a canniness that speaks to the skills of the writers and the director.

Acting is top notch. Tom Cruise is a sympathetic and realistic character in the bones of the unwilling and frightened Major Cage, and he grows throughout the movie. Emily Blunt is a tough badass who has her vulnerabilities – and might I add it’s a pleasure to see a strong woman in a movie again – and Bill Paxton is funnier than his role in “Aliens.”

Speaking of which, the aliens in “Edge of Tomorrow” are truly alien. I take my hat off to the person who designed them. They look like nothing you’ve seen.

“Edge of Tomorrow” is not “deep,” meaning it won’t be in line for a best picture award. But it’s nice to see Cruise in a winner. It’s nice to see a movie that isn’t based on a sequel or a prequel or a remake of a remake. It’s nice to see a well-written, smart, funny and exciting film again. I was beginning to wonder if I ever would.

I almost clapped at the end of “Edge of Tomorrow,” and if a movie review can make a sound, that’s likely what you hear. Go see the movie. I’d rate it a solid A.

Mladen’s take

It would be easy to dismiss “Edge of Tomorrow” as a trite film because the trailers make it look and sound like “Ground Hog Day” meets “Halo.” But, that would be an error.

Despite its flimsy PG-13 rating, “E of T” is very good. The script and acting – Tom Cruise as Cage and Emily Blunt as Vrataski in the lead roles and Bill Paxton supporting as Farrell – were top notch. Plus, computer-generated graphics were used to enhance the plot, rather than conceal poor writing, silly coincidences that keep a weak story flowing, and crappy, underdeveloped characters typical of summer blockbusters.

Del summed the movie nicely, so I won’t bother. “E of T” is a film worthy of the big screen and big ticket prices moviegoers have to endure these days.

“E of T” is a sci-fi adventure built around its stars. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of gun and grenade play and lots of CV-22-like machines blown out of the sky, but it’s the movie’s characters that keep your attention.

Cage transitions nicely from a selfish and naïve military public affairs propagandist at the beginning of the film to a man clearly thinking about someone other than himself by the end. He dies many times, often in funny ways.

Vrataski is tough from the get-go and the brains behind the operation to whack the Omega, a time-warping brain, that controls the Mimics, hyper-mobile alien troops that have conquered continental Europe.

“Edge of Tomorrow” isn’t perfect, but could have been – yeah, Del, here it comes – if the studio dedicated it to entertainment for adults by going R. Yes, the producers would have made less money, but, in exchange for less change, “E of T” could have gone down in moviedom sci-fi history as masterful. Was “Alien” rated PG(-13)? Was “The Matrix” rated PG(-13)? Was “District 9” rated PG-13? No, no, and no. More realistic battle scenes would have helped “E of T.” Vivid blood spray, graphic skin, muscle, and organ disintegrations after impacts by projectiles or crashes, full-bore cussing, and reproductive urge tension between handsome Cage and beautiful Vrataski would have burnished the movie’s credentials. Instead, we get sterilized deaths and constrained language even when Mimics are running amok and slicing through exoskeleton-equipped human soldiers.

Lukewarm rant aside, I would see “Edge of Tomorrow” again in the theater if I could afford it. And, “E of T” will become part of my Blu-Ray collection when it’s released for home viewing.

Though it troubles me to no end, I completely agree with Del on this one. “Edge of Tomorrow” is a solid A.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.