Director: Tarsem Singh
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Natalie Martinez, Matthew Goode, Victor Garber, Derek Luke, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, Ben Kingsley
MPAA Rating: (for sequences of violence, some sexuality, and language)
Running Time: 1:56
Release Date: 7/10/15
Review by Mark Dujsik | July 9, 2015
Self/less does not so much have an intriguing premise as it has an intriguing nugget of an idea. To say that the movie's premise is intriguing would be to imply that the movie expands on that kernel of a thought to some degree, and this movie certainly does not.
In fact, the screenplay by the fraternal duo of David and Àlex Pastor is in such a rush to get to what it sees as the core of the story that it sidesteps or wholly ignores whatever could be done with that tidbit of an idea. That idea is simple: a person can transfer his or her consciousness to another body. Imagine the possibilities to explore—the psychological, philosophical, spiritual, emotional, and physical ramifications of such a procedure. Now get those thoughts out of your head, because this movie would rather get us to fights, shootouts, a car chase, and a whole lot of generic and repetitive pooh-poohing of the idea. Shouldn't we at least be allowed to enjoy with blissful ignorance the potential good of a theoretical thing before we get scolded for going along with its fictional existence?
Then again, this is a movie that doesn't even bother to provide a logical rationale for why this process would be "good" in the first place. The general notion, provided by the man who runs the mind-swapping operation, is that it will allow the best minds in the world to survive the limitations of their bodies, such as illness or injury or that pesky death thing. They could, in theory, continue with their work.
One of those "great minds," apparently, is Damian Hale (Ben Kingsley, who earns about half of the paycheck for his roughly 10 minutes of screen time on account of his mere presence and the other half for his "New Yawk" dialect), a wealthy-beyond-words development mogul who is dying from widespread cancer. He seeks out Albright (Matthew Goode), the scientist who has perfected this "shedding" procedure, to save his mind from his presently decayed body and transplant it into a genetically engineered—or so Albright says—newer model (The screenplay fits in a lot of car metaphors).
This process is top secret, meaning that Damian must cut ties with everyone he knows after appearing to have died. He takes on a new identity to go along with his shell (played by Ryan Reynolds), and Albright sets him up with a swanky rental home in New Orleans, where he plays basketball and has plenty of one-night stands with an assortment of women.
At some point, we have to assume, the whole "keep the mind alive to continue with its work" thing would come into play, but the movie never makes it seem like any kind of priority. It seems more like an elaborate retirement package (with no one questioning why Damian's money has gone to some stranger who never existed until the mogul's death) instead of some for-the-greater-good endeavor. In other words, the movie doesn't even invent a convincing reason for its central conceit to exist.
The Pastors seem to realize this, so that's why everything shifts—and swiftly—to a more conspiratorial enterprise. The body, it turns out, once belonged to another man, and whenever Damian doesn't take his "anti-rejection" medication, he experiences flashes of memory from the other man's life. With the help of an incredibly effective Internet search, Damian finds the man's wife Madeline (Natalie Martinez) and daughter (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen). Then he has to protect them and himself from Albright's henchmen. Luckily, the body's former occupant served in the military and is adept at hand-to-hand combat and shooting.
The remainder of the movie runs on mindless auto-pilot, although the movie up until this point hasn't been much better in terms of displaying a grasp on its central idea and narrative. Director Tarsem Singh (whose typical visual flair is neutered beyond recognition here) relies heavily on montages, which interrupt the story's flow. The story's emotional core is hollow, and the movie's potential for any thoughtful development of the central concept is rendered nonexistent—both thanks to its reliance on action and plot over all else. Once those action sequences begin, the editing becomes languid, and the staging is stiff. It's as if Singh, who usually could be accused of trying too hard or too much, would rather be doing anything else.
Self/less, appropriately, is a movie without a distinct identity. The ambitions inherent to its central idea are too vast to be confined to something so routine, and its actual aims are too simple to accommodate such a wide-ranging concept. A good idea—even a morsel of one—is a terrible thing to waste.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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