Movie Review ~ The Adam Project

The Facts:

Synopsis: A time-traveling pilot teams up with his younger self and his late father to come to terms with his past while saving the future.
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Walker Scobell, Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldaña, Catherine Keener, Alex Mallari Jr.
Director: Shawn Levy
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 106 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: We’ll lay it out on the table right away.  The last Netflix movie we saw Ryan Reynolds in was Red Notice in November 2021, and it was a bona fide stinker.  Reynolds, Gal Gadot, and Dwayne Johnson showed up and collected enormous paydays for a tired script about a trio of double-crossing criminals.  They looked bored…but not as bored as most audiences.  So seeing Reynolds with a new movie, The Adam Project, so quickly in 2022, you can see why I was understandably a little wary of getting too excited about its prospects.  Reteamed with his Free Guy director Shawn Levy, Reynolds stars alongside Jennifer Garner and Marc Ruffalo, another pair reunited almost two decades since they appeared in 13 Going on 30.

In the film, Reynolds (Deadpool) is Adam Reed, who travels from 2050 back to 2018 to try and stop his father from figuring out the key to time travel, a concept that has dire consequences for the future.  Problems arise when Adam instead lands in 2022 and meets his younger self when his life as a friendless high schooler is also in serious tumult.  There’s also the small matter of his mother (Garner, Love, Simon) being recently widowed after his father (Ruffalo, Thanks for Sharing) was killed in a car crash.  Still unable to talk about their grief, mother and son haven’t dealt entirely with this loss, and the wedge between them is growing.  When 2050 Adam meets 2022 Adam (newcomer Walker Scobell), the convincing is easy but stopping him from asking questions is another thing. 

When 2050 Adam is followed from the future by Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener Captain Phillips), his father’s former partner, the two Adams must stick together to make sure the other is protected.  With help from a mysterious ally (Zoe Saldaña, Out of the Furnace) and over additional time jumps, each will learn valuable lessons from the other about remembering the past and valuing the present. 

I’m going to take a big swing at a guess and say that when reviews from critics and audiences alike for The Adam Project come out, many are going to compare it to the kind of mid-summer entertainment we anticipated in the early ‘90s.  A glance at the space-age gadgets, time-travel plot devices, family emotional elements, conniving but relatively benign villains, smart-aleck dialogue, and fast-paced action sequences are the chief reasons why. After all, they were present for 98% of all movies released during those blistering dog days of the year.  In that way, The Adam Project will slip right into a sweet spot for adults of a certain age watching with their kids or want to screen it again for them after. 

The more I think about The Adam Project, all that flash can’t hold a candle to the scenes screenwriters Jonathan Tropper (This Is Where I Leave You), T.S. Nowlin (The Maze Runner), & Jennifer Flackett (Wimbledon) include that strip away all of those safety blankets and let the actors feel their feelings.  The best special effect is watching Reynolds let down his phony-baloney goofball veneer and be a real person.  We hardly ever get that anymore, and that’s disappointing, not that you can blame him because when he did try for more dramatic endeavors, many detractors told him to stick to comedy.  Those same detractors now think he plays it safe resting on his funny bones.  It’s a good mixture of both the wry and dry, with Reynolds leaving enough space for Scobell to shine as his younger counterpart.    

Levy (The Internship) has had enough practice with these major movies to juggle a lot all at once, and while at times this can make the film feel just a tad workmanlike and hollow, it’s a polished piece of machinery that flies by in an instant.  I could easily have believed The Adam Project was orchestrated for release on an IMAX screen, and it would likely have been just as impressive a presentation.  Anything that deals with the loss of a parent, especially a dad, will go right for my jugular, and as expected, the right chords were plucked/manipulated, and I shed some happy-sad tears.  There’s no enduring legacy this film will leave behind, but for the solid two-hour entertainment it provides, complete with several needle drop music cues, you can hardly miss this project.

Movie Review ~ Robin’s Wish


The Facts
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Synopsis: An intimate portrait of Robin Williams and his invulnerable spirit, Robin’s Wish is the story of what really happened to one of the greatest entertainers of all time – and what his mind was fighting.

Stars: Susan Schneider Williams, Shawn Levy, John R. Montgomery, Rick Overton, David E. Kelly

Director: Tylor Norwood

Rated: NR

Running Length: 77 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  Some days you’ll never forget.  The day Robin Williams died was one of them.  I know that it may sound strange in the grand scheme of life to mourn a celebrity death but Robin was one of the first stars I remember growing up knowing and recognizing.  Encountering him while I was a child as the Genie in Aladdin and the title character in Mrs. Doubtfire to becoming an adult and graduating to his less funny work in Insomnia and One-Hour Photo, I felt like I could chart my life, certainly my movie-going life, though him.  So thinking back to that day in August of 2014 when I got a text that asked me if I’d heard that Robin Williams had died will always bring a flush to my cheeks.  That night, I watched The Birdcage because I hadn’t seen it in forever and I wanted something that represented him well – solid comedy, solid heart.

In the days, months, weeks, and years since Robin left us, we’ve learned more about what he was suffering with that led him to commit suicide at the age of 63.  Though many assumed at first it was due to drugs or depression, it was revealed that although Robin had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease it was actually Lewy body dementia that likely led him to take his own life.  The implications of this are complicated and complex, requiring far more information that can be provided in a simple movie review.  Still, it gave a name and an explanation to what many of his close family and friends had been unable to pinpoint until after he was gone.

In the new documentary Robin’s Wish, Robin’s widow Susan Schneider Williams and director Tylor Norwood lay out this diagnosis and provide informative details about the series of events that, in hindsight, showed as early warning signs.  Interviews with several of those that knew him well in addition to neighbors in Marin, CA where he called home most of the time further color in the lines of the Robin off-camera that many of us didn’t see.  It’s a sweet, if not all-together enlightening, look at the actor that was beloved by many but struggled valiantly in his final years to stay afloat.

Those seeking an in-depth overall look at the life and times of Robin Williams won’t find it here, that’s been covered and done well in the 2018 documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind as well as several nicely researched biographies.  Although a brief overview of his early days at Julliard with classmate Christopher Reeve and their lasting friendship is mentioned, the majority of the film follows his later years with Schneider Williams, his third wife who he married in 2011.  More of a memory book on their life than anything, it definitely paints a picture of serenity in their union and how much they meant to each other…but it’s notable that none of his children are interviewed, seen, or even mentioned at all.  There’s not even a whisper of them when Schneider Williams was recalling how devastated Robin was when he found himself in failing health.  It all just seems, well, odd.  Like a piece of a difficult puzzle had been purposely left out.

What was nice to see were memories of Robin not from the usual suspects.  Instead of gathering a host of celebrities and recognizable names, Norwood interviews next-door neighbors, cycling buddies, and old comedy friends from back in the day.  Again, maybe this was something to read further into but I found it nice to hear from others that didn’t know Robin from the red carpet or movie sets but from seeing him walking his dog or taking out his trash.  Sometimes that’s when you get to know a person the best.  The film takes a sharp turn as it heads toward the finish line when it shifts to being all about Schneider Williams and her efforts to bring awareness to Lewy body dementia.  The jaded critic in me felt this smacked of infomercial-level filmmaking but there’s still a sincerity to her that appealed to me on a personal level.

Robin Williams left a large gap in the hearts of many movie fans and a larger one in those of his loved ones.  The movie never quite makes it clear what his “wish” was but raising awareness for this tragic disorder would surely be something he’d be a supporter of.  The film takes time to show his efforts with the USO and wounded veterans and his time with Comic Relief is well-documented.  It’s sad that he’s not here to help in the fight for a cure but perhaps this tiny film will inspire greater visibility to the cause.

Movie Review ~ Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Larry spans the globe, uniting favorite and new characters while embarking on an epic quest to save the magic before it is gone forever.

Stars: Robin Williams, Ben Kingsley, Steve Coogan, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Ricky Gervais, Rebel Wilson, Dan Stevens

Director: Shawn Levy

Rated: PG

Running Length: 97 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  I believe the statute of limitations has run out by now so I can say to you now that I snuck into the first Night at the Museum on Christmas Day 2006.  My family had caught the first showing of Dreamgirls and I stuck around to see another flick while my parents started making the rounds to all of our relatives.  That first film was a pleasant, if silly, fantasy that provided good opportunities for its cast to do their thing while interacting with the kind of special effects that aren’t summer blockbuster “wow” worthy but succeeded on their own merits.

The sequel, released as summer entertainment in 2009 was the very definition of a movie studio and cast cashing in and making a quick buck.  The jokes were stale, the actors checked out, the direction given over to the special effects teams, and a higher emphasis on potty humor and gross gags made it nearly an intolerable watch.

I didn’t even know a second sequel was in the works until I caught the teaser trailer for Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb in early 2014 and by the looks of it I gleaned we were in for more of the same tired quips and even more screen time for the wily capuchin that delights in urinating on anything that gets in its way.   Seeing a Christmas release date it wasn’t hard to put the equation together that another “just for the paycheck” experience awaited all those willing to plunk down their greenbacks at the box office.

The third (supposedly final) entry in the series winds up being better than its predecessor but still falls short of the wonder the original brought forth.  Yes, it’s a near retread of the other films with scenes filled with characters seemingly chosen via random lottery (or whoever was willing to work the cheapest) and star Ben Stiller (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) couldn’t be less invested if he tried but a compact plot keeps the action moving and largely contained to a single night of adventure.

Making it past the awful first 20 minutes is key here.  As is the case with sequels, a heavily populated opening is an easy way to give audiences a view of their favorite returning characters before finding a way to justify their absence in the latter half of the film.  Here we have night security guard Larry (Stiller) traveling to London with, among others, Teddy Roosevelt (the late Robin Williams, Lee Daniels’ The Butler), a Neanderthal doppelgänger of Larry (also played by Stiller), Jedidiah (Owen Wilson, The Internship) and Octavius (Steve Coogan, Philomena) to discover why the magical Tablet of Ahkmenrah is corroding and causing mayhem.

It’s at London’s British Museum that Larry and company encounter a bumbling security guard (Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect, proving once again that a little of her goes a long way), Lancelot (Dan Stevens, Downton Abbey), Ahkmenrah’s Pharoah Papa (Ben Kingsley, Iron Man 3), and a nasty serpent in their quest to save the tablet from destruction.

The film holds a few surprises, the best being a funny and finely timed cameo by an eternally game superstar known for his singing chops as well as his action hero status.  It’s nice to see the likes of Bill Cobbs (The Bodyguard), Mickey Rooney (who also passed away in 2014), and especially Dick Van Dyke as the old security guards from the first film.  The first time we see Van Dyke probably gave me one of the best laughs of 2014…in much the same way his appearance in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day did in October.  Though the main baddie is somewhat bland, there’s ample opportunity for moments of creativity that are too often stymied by pee jokes and the stubborn need to flesh out a coming of age story for Stiller’s son.  All are distractions (along with Stiller’s oddly changing haircut) from what could have been a nice holiday adventure.

For a moment, the film seems to be heading off into the sunset in fine form…until a total unnecessary epilogue ruins it all.  Director Shawn Levy (This Is Where I Leave You) either was under pressure from the studio to leave the franchise door slightly ajar or just couldn’t resist one more chance to let his special effects team run amok…either way it turned a warm send-off into a chilly finale that was most disappointing.

The Silver Bullet ~ Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

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Synopsis: Larry leaves New York City for London on a quest to save the magic before it is gone forever.

Release Date: December 19, 2014

Thoughts: I usually keep decent tabs on movies but I must have been asleep when a second sequel to 2006’s Night at the Museum was announced…that or else the film was greenlit when no one was looking. While the original reminded me of the type of fun Disney may have rolled out in the early 70s, the sequel was a cash-grab from all involved…adding nothing but loud noises and special effects. Can’t say the third film looks to be anything different with star Ben Stiller (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) returning alongside director Shawn Levy (This Is Where I Leave You) and the rest of the crazy characters that come to life when the museum is closed. Looking at the positive, one can be hopeful that the film inspires the youngins to take a more active interest in history and their local museums.

Movie Review ~ This is Where I Leave You

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When their father passes away, four grown siblings are forced to return to their childhood home and live under the same roof together for a week, along with their over-sharing mother and an assortment of spouses, exes and might-have-beens.

Stars: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Abigail Spencer, Dax Shepard, Jane Fonda

Director: Shawn Levy

Rated: R

Running Length: 103 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: I suppose I need to start my review of This Is Where I Leave you by coming clean and saying that I read Jonathan Tropper’s novel on which his screenplay is based and hated it. Filled with endless turns of cliché situations and characters that seemed discarded from NBC’s 2004 pilot season, the book never made a case for its popularity in my mind. Still, based on the cast director Shawn Levy (The Internship) assembled I hoped the film adaptation would be able smooth out some of the book’s trite developments and be that rare unicorn where the movie was better than the book.

Alas, while the film does ultimately fare better than its source material, it remains a painfully laborious affair with no family squabble left un-squawked and no amount of gooey angst left un-squeezed. While Tropper has streamlined his novel for the big screen, he winded up throwing out more than a few interesting elements that provided these characters with what little interest they were sketched with in the first place. Particularly disappointing is the full-scale lobotomy performed on eldest brother Corey Stoll’s (Non-Stop) backstory, robbing the actor and the audience of some meaty insight into why the man is so gruff and glowering.

Returning home to sit shiva (a Jewish mourning period of 7 days where the family receives guests and remembers the deceased) the Altman children come back to the family homestead with baggage both physical and emotional. Cuckolded brother Judd (Jason Bateman, Bad Words) is dealing with his marital woes, unhappy sister Wendy (Tina Fey, Muppets Most Wanted) juggles scampering children and a non-present husband, responsible brother Paul (Stoll) can’t seem to get his wife (Kathryn Hahn, We’re the Millers) pregnant, and free spirit Phillip (Adam Driver, What If) speeds into town with his older fiancé (Connie Britton, The To Do List) in tow.

Living under the same roof again with their famous child psychiatrist mother (Jane Fonda, Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding) could have made for a much more interesting mix of comedy tinged with pathos but Tropper and Levy hardly let a moment go by without a joke involving Fonda’s silicon-ized breasts, even sacrificing a hugely emotional scene near the end of the film to get in one more boob joke.

It’s time for Bateman to hang up this exasperated character he’s been playing for several decades now. He’s interesting enough of an actor to take some stretch opportunities but he’s returned to this well one too many times. Though he creates some nice sparks with Rose Byrne (Insidious) as his high school sweetheart, the rest of his performance seems flat and workmanlike. Hahn is mysteriously underused here, like Stoll she suffers from Tropper’s slicing up of her story arc…though it must be said I’m glad he removed one particular turn of events that would have had audiences furious. Britton barely makes an impact and while Fonda gets some of the best scenes in the movie, she looks like she’s going through the five stages of Botox as the film progresses.

Driver may be the next big thing but I’m yet to be sold on his charm – still, in his own way he gives the role some needed charisma, however oddly he delivers it. Though it pains me to say it, Fey is the real mistake of the film. She probably should have swapped roles with Hahn because her attempts to dig deep find her in shallow waters that she just isn’t yet capable of navigating.

It doesn’t help that these characters are the kind of gross oversized family unit that only can be displayed on the big screen. My movie companion thought that I missed the point because, as an only child, I may not be as in tune with the family dynamics that exist within a large household. This could be true but my problems lie not with the device but with the execution. Worse, the film introduces these messy people and then dares to provide the tidiest of wrap-ups without earning it. Instead of feeling sympathy for the misery everyone is enduring (of which none is related to the death of the patriarch, by the way) I felt like everyone got what was coming to them in one way or another.

The large ensemble family dramadey has been done so much better before in films like Parenthood – leave this one alone and take another look at that film instead. Not much to see here.

The Silver Bullet ~ This is Where I Leave You

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Synopsis: When their father passes away, four grown siblings are forced to return to their childhood home and live under the same roof together for a week, along with their over-sharing mother and an assortment of spouses, exes and might-have-beens.

Release Date: September 19, 2014

Thoughts: I’ve read Jonathan Tropper’s book that inspired this big screen adaptation and I can’t for the life of me see what would attract such appealing comedic names like Jason Bateman (Bad Words), Tina Fey (Muppets Most Wanted), Rose Byrne (Neighbors), and Kathryn Hahn (We’re The Millers). The novel, transparently written with a movie deal in mind, reminded me of a lackluster mid-season replacement pilot that NBC would have burned off in the dog days of summer. While occasionally funny in a depressing way, I couldn’t get past the workmanlike comedic set-ups and generic character sketches Tropper etched for readers. Here’s hoping director Shawn Levy (The Internship) and a cast that also includes Jane Fonda (Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding) and Adam Driver (What If) can make something of it all.

Movie Review ~ The Internship

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Two salesmen whose careers have been torpedoed by the digital age find their way into a coveted internship at Google, where they must compete with a group of young, tech-savvy geniuses for a shot at employment.

Stars: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Max Minghella, Rose Byrne, John Goodman, Dylan O’Brien, JoAnna Garcia, Eric Andre, Josh Brener, Tiya Sircar, Tobit Raphael, Will Ferrell

Director: Shawn Levy

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 119 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Though summer is traditionally the time of big budget franchise pictures that boast state of the art special effects and gigantic action sequences, it’s nice to remember that there are also high profile studio pictures that provide nice counter programming to more bombastic films.  Now along comes The Internship, a comedy that takes a big gamble that pays off for the most part and proves that you don’t need superheroes and alien effects to entertain.

It’s hard to imagine everything that was on the line with the pitch that screenwriter Vince Vaughn and Jared Stern made to the studio in hopes of getting this movie made.  A comedy about two washed up salesmen that worm their way into a summer internship at Google, the entire film really depended on the participation of the massive internet company.  Without them, the movie simply couldn’t have been made.

Thankfully, after reading the script the company agreed to lend their name and blessing to the genial comedy and even if it could be argued that the movie is just one big ad for Google there’ s no denying that there’s a fun movie at the center of all the product placement.  Giving viewers an inside look at the Google campus (though little to none of it was actually filmed there), we see the atmosphere that the company has created with free food, nap pods (I’d like to order one of those, please), slides that take you from one floor to another, and a collegiate atmosphere that stimulates creativity while pushing the boundaries of imagination.

I get the impression that this was originally targeted as an R-Rated feature but it’s relatively tame considering that the film stars the men from 2005’s raunchy Wedding Crashers.  More than a few times I could tell some more explicit words and images were removed to get the film to more audience friendly PG-13 but it really doesn’t matter because the comedy comes from a more genuine place and its largely thanks to its stars.

While Vaughn struck gold early with Swingers he only manages a good film every fourth movie released.  He’s in his comfort zone here as a fast-talking dyed in the wool salesman that suddenly is up against people half his age that have double the tech knowledge he so sorely lacks.  Wilson (who seems to look more like a young old man with each film) is a nicely centered counter to Vaughn’s more hyperactive character.  The two work well together and even if a few of their likely ad-libbed scenes go on a little too long you can tell that there’s a real respect there.

As part of their internship, Vaughn and Wilson must team up with a group of misfits to complete challenges that will get them one step closer to a full time job at the end of the summer.  The plot actually reminded me of the recent Monsters University where two goofballs are forced to work with a team of outcasts to gain admission to a highly competitive college program.  Instead of monster related shenanigans, The Internship puts Vaughn, Wilson, and their outliers up against a set of Google related challenges and asks them to square off opposite a perfectly smarmy Max Minghella.

Normally I bristle at a romance that feels shoe-horned in but the playful banter exchanged between Wilson and Rose Byrne (The Place Beyond the Pines) is genuinely surprising and makes good use of the refreshing appeal of both actors.  Byrne’s role could easily have been a one-note ice queen that gets melted by Wilson’s aw-shucks charm but she gives some extra gravitas to her take on her character that somehow makes a familiar romantic sparring situation feel new.

Director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) keeps things moving at a nice pace and for a comedy that almost tips the scales at two hours the result is a breezy laugher that’s as harmless as a low-level virus that has infected your G-Mail account.  Even a cameo by the sometimes unrestrained Will Ferrell lands squarely on the funny bone and doesn’t overstay its welcome.  While The Internship is most likely a film with little re-watch value, there’s a lot of fun to be had if you’re up for something that doesn’t involve star treks with iron men of steel on the pacific rim.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Internship

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Synopsis: Two salesmen whose careers have been torpedoed by the digital age find their way into a coveted internship at Google, where they must compete with a group of young, tech-savvy geniuses for a shot at employment.

Release Date: June 7, 2013

Thoughts: Watching the trailer for The Internship reminds me of the kind of movies we saw in the mid to late nineties – big studio comedies with a box office stars that were bright, fun, and harmless.  Though I’m not the biggest fan of either Vaughn or Wilson (and their current status as A-list box office stars is debatable) I have to say this looks like a welcome return to form for both comic actors.  While it does come off like a feature length ad for Google, I’d still bet good money that there are plenty of laughs to be had in this summer internship.