“Self/less” Needs Less Stupid


Self/less (Tarsem Singh, 2015)

Poor Ryan Reynolds. He’s a charming enough screen presence, yet so often chooses projects of such mediocrity that he just can’t quite rise into the Hollywood A-List. In big-budget flops like Green LanternRIPD and now (I predict) Self/less, the problem is not him. He’s fine. As always, he’s extremely likable and capable. It’s the script that’s terrible.

Imagine All of Me meets Face/Off (that forward slash is the key!),* only not as good or interesting as either (and Face/Off was hardly terrific), and you’ll have some idea as to what this new movie is about. Late-60s New-York business tycoon Damian – played by Ben Kingsley (Sexy Beast) doing some kind of working-class Brooklyn accent that makes him sound like Elmer Fudd – is dying of cancer; he has six months to live. Desperate, he signs up for a risky (and secretive) procedure – called “shedding” – in which his consciousness and memories will be transferred into a new lab-grown body by the unctuous Dr. Albright, played by the ever-charismatic Matthew Goode (Stoker). He settles his affairs, fakes his own death, and voilà! He now looks and sounds (the accent is gone!) just like Ryan Reynolds. He’s given a new identity and sent off to New Orleans to party, which he does like it’s 1976 (that’s my approximation of the year in which Damian would have been the age of the body he now inhabits), drinking a lot and sleeping with many attractive young women. All is good until he starts having flashbacks (making this also a bit like the original Robocop) that belong, perhaps, to his new host, who may not, in fact, be lab-grown. Whoops. At this point, the film transitions from attempted high-concept thriller to straight-up action movie, with chase scenes galore (some of which are not bad, I’ll admit). Will Damian uncover the mystery behind the new him? Guess …

Briefly, at the start, the movie flirts with some interesting ideas about our fear of death and desire for immortality. But then, all too quickly, it descends into ridiculousness, as we are struck, time and again, by the improbabilities of the science fiction concept as it is executed. There are some cute scenes involving a kid, but that doesn’t help. Whatever entertainment value there is, at first, quickly finds itself overwhelmed by stupidity. Sorry, Ryan. Next time.

*[Note from 7/11/15: Since writing my review, I have learned that Self/less is almost directly inspired by John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, even though that earlier – and by all accounts, far superior film – receives no mention in the credits. My next task? Watch Seconds … ]

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