MOVIE REVIEW: Self/less
"SELF/LESS"-- 1 STAR
WARNING: The following picture attached this website's review is an actual image from the film "Self/less" but it may indicate what your own facial expression will look like either live while watching "Self/less" or after seeing the film in its entirety. The timing and severity of this effect will vary among each audience member, but, make no mistake, this is the end result. You have been warned. This has been a safety message from (hopefully) your favorite and most trusted film critic. Carry on.
Borrowing all kinds of pieces and ideas from better, more coherent, and more menacing science fiction and action films, "Self/less," which opens this weekend, blows any attempt at being a compelling thriller at each supposed twist and turn it seems fit to fashion. Science fiction is the correct playing field to allow the unbelievable to be made believable, but what director Tarsem Singh and his pair of low-rent horror veteran screenwriters are selling in "Self/less" cannot pass for edible, even with a side of popcorn.
Sir Ben Kingsley plays a wealthy New York tycoon named Damian Hale who is rapidly dying of a thankfully nonspecific aggressive cancer. He has spent his life conquering every business challenge to amass a vast fortune at the expense of estranging his family and children. He doesn't feel complete in terms of legacy and entertains a clandestine proposal that was floated to him by his most trusted business manager (the secondhand sage Victor Garber). It is an experimental scientific process is called "shedding," where the mind and memories of one person can be transferred to another, younger host body.
This highly off-the-books science is being engineered and controlled by the spectacle-tapping-instead-of-mustache-twirling Dr. Albright, played by Matthew Goode of "Watchmen" and "The Imitation Game." After settling affairs and faking his own death at Albright's insistence, Damian pays to go through with the procedure in a clearly not-on-the-up-and-up New Orleans warehouse laboratory. In absurdly less time than it would take your nice home computer to download pictures off of your camera's memory card into a folder, Damian's consciousness trades fifty years to wake up in the host body of Ryan Reynolds with a new lease on life and a new identity by the name of Edward.
Looking like a svelte stud after a period of recovery, Damian/Edward takes his new body for a spin, soaking up the decadent nightlife of New Orleans, playing basketball, and bedding women with a new friendly wingman (Derek Luke). Trouble in paradise comes when the new Damian forgets to take his vital medication from Dr. Albright. He begins to see visions of a life that is not his own. Damian learns that the Ryan Reynolds body he now occupies belonged to former Marine who had a wife (Natalie Martinez of "End of Watch") and daughter (first-timer Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen). Troubled to no end by that truth, Damian seeks out that family and comes to the thinking that he can set things right and stop Albright from doing this to more people.
We've known it for a while, but now it's official. Ryan Reynolds is slowly slipping off the face of the Earth for relevance. The man who once had us eating out of his hand with boundless charisma 13 years ago as "Van Wilder" now can't seem to stop playing the same boring victim/fish-out-of-water character. This film, "RIPD," "Safe House," and even "Green Lantern" have all asked Ryan to play the same constantly agape and out-of-his-element reluctant hero. They are dull and exhibit the same weakness opposite his own personality type. Somewhere, Reynolds stopped playing fun characters with confidence that suit his strengths. At a youthful 38, he should be making a killing as the go-to alpha male of smoothness. Instead, we get this broken record. As easy as it is to dismiss internet click-bait like a misrepresented Facebook headline from Cinema Blend that reads "So, 'Deadpool' is Ryan Reynolds's Last Chance," they are kind of right. If Reynolds can pull off the "Merc with a Mouth," he's done for.
The implausibilities pile high in "Self/less." The film has a great premise in mind, but wastes it on a hackneyed PG-13 chase film. Any intelligence that could come from the possible big ideas prime for harvest get stomped on by bullets and contrivances that wouldn't make a student film homage of Jason Bourne films. Any gravitas departs when Ben Kingsley leaves and no one picks up that baton to move the film in any substantial direction of interest. "Self/less" does a terrible job trying to squeeze you into caring about the broken family. It shoves that cute kid in your face immediately before or after the next dumb and violent set piece takes over. It's hard to buy and wrestle with the "daddy" feelings when pounded by Antonio Pinto and Duda Aram's techno-score music. The tone never matches. More so, the film, with ridiculous ambivalence, gets away with featuring a 70-plus-year-old man miraculously knowing how to use the skills and fight training of his trained Marine's body to conveniently get out of jams. It's leaps like that, and more, that ruin any possible specter or coolness.
Unlike far better identity thrillers like David Fincher's "The Game" or even last summer's indie gem "The One I Love," there is little, if any, real peril or mystery towards how the film will progress or climax. The attempted curveballs hang over the plate and are crushed by predictability and laughable, brainless absences of logic. That ineffective hitting is the kiss of death for a thriller that doesn't thrill. Head that initial warning and skip "Self/less." Your brain will thank you.
LESSON #1: THE RUTHLESS BUSINESSMAN GROWS A HEART-- When "Self/less" introduces us to Kingsley's Damian Hale, he's pulling the rug out from under a younger wannabe tycoon by displaying his plumage of toughness and stealing the kid's business deal over dinner. Somehow, after paying millions of dollars to get a new body and life, this unmerciful suit throws away his golden ticket of immortality (see next lesson) and grows a spine over a couple of cold sweats and bad dreams to make things right. It's nice and all that he changes, but it's a stretch of character from the self-made man and go-getter we meet. Again, this is weak of "Self/less." There's no boldness or brashness, just pushover after pushover.
LESSON #2: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS IMMORTALITY-- This lesson could be written as something as simple as "Duh," but let's expound. The erasure and conquering of immortality is a common story trope of dream fulfillment in science fiction. From vampires to cyborgs, many stories chase this illusion. "Self/less" is more of the same. We have a selfish character who thinks he can cheat mortality and death and, right on schedule, realizes how impossible that is, but not before letting science and fantasy entertain that possibility.
LESSON #3: CHECK ON A COMPANY BEFORE YOU DO BUSINESS WITH THEM, ESPECIALLY IF THAT BUSINESS INVOLVES KILLING YOU AND SAYING THEY WILL GIVE YOU A NEW BODY-- There isn't a Better Business Bureau section for the cryogenics of "Vanilla Sky" any more than for the shedding of "Self/less." Dude, Damian, you're still a billionaire. You can do better than random Google searches to do your homework on a decision of this magnitude. Equal to the wild ads for weight loss products, sexual performance boosts, and hair rejuvenation, you can't go believing some sketchy doctor with glasses when you're blindly taken to some mystery lab. Come on, man. You're smarter and more thorough than this!