Self/less (2015) / Sci Fi-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sequences of violence, some sexuality, and language
Running Time: 116 min.
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Ben Kingsley, Natalie Martinez, Matthew Goode, Victor Garber, Derek Luke, Jaynee-Mynne Kinchen, Michelle Dockery, Melora Hardin, Sam Page, Brendan McCarthy
Director: Tarsem Singh
Screenplay: David Pastor, Alex Pastor
Review published July 12, 2015
Tarsem Singh (Mirror Mirror, Immortals) directs his most mainstream effort to date in Self/less, a science fiction-based thriller about rich people who find ways to prolong their lives through a new, secret technology that puts their consciences into harvested younger bodies. It's almost as if Singh is taking a page from the premise itself, becoming a new director altogether, reinventing his style to concentrate less on mind-blowing visuals, usually at the expense of storytelling, and pay more respect to plotline.
One of those rich people is New York billionaire Damian Hale (Kingsley, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb), who has less than six months to live due to terminal cancer. Damian is given a business card with the number of a company that purports to have a solution to his death sentence, and, figuring he has nothing left to lose at this point, he gives their top-secret facilities in New Orleans a look. The process is called 'shedding', which involves planting his consciousness into a new, fresh body, which the company's genius scientist in charge, Albright (Goode, The Imitation Game), assures him has been cultivated in a lab. Damian goes through the procedure, which gives him not only a new lease on life but a whole new identity in New Orleans, using his newfound youth to bed many beautiful women, engage in sports he hasn't partaken of in years, and eat mass quantities of peanut butter (Damien's old body was allergic to the nut).
But there is a side effect to the procedure involving hallucinating about people he doesn't know and places he's never been. Albright assures Damien that this is a normal adjustment and that if he keeps swallowing the prescribed pills offered to him, he'll be completely free of such visions within a year. But soon he begins to suspect that Albright isn't telling the full story, and that the body he is inhabiting (Reynolds, Woman in Gold) already has some miles on it, and he's going to find out who is sharing mind-space with him and how he ended up as a cadaver for rent. Needless to say, some secrets are going to have to stay secret, and Damien finds that the more he digs in to the past, the more he finds himself digging his own grave, this time for good.
Questions abound: If you're going to pay a quarter of a billion dollars for this procedure, why would you choose a body that is already in its mid-30s in appearance to inhabit? Why does Damien not carry over his speech and mannerisms into his new body other than the fact that he likes to toss his keys on a chair behind his back when he enters his abode? Shouldn't he retain Damian's New York accent, posture, and speech cadence? Why does the drug suppress the memories of the original host, but Damian is still able to fight like Jason Bourne without any hitch?
The best thing about Self/less is that such a nifty plot, which some claim cribs from John Frankenheimer's' 1966 cult classic Seconds more than a little bit (further continuing its theme of 'recycling' old ideas to seem younger and hipper), is intriguing enough to keep one's attention to the bitter end, even through porous, predictable, and preposterous plotting. It also deftly explains just enough on how the process works without over explaining the rules, allowing the audience to suspend disbelief for the sake of getting to the bottom of the mystery at hand.
While Self/less is never quite good enough to earn a solid recommendation on making it a night worth going to the theater for, it's not unwatchable either. There just aren't many high highs or low lows, as Singh keeps everything clicking along at a level that might make for a modestly intriguing basic-cable flick or VOD flyer, which isn't very high praise if you're experienced with such things. Though its length does make the momentum peter out as it heads toward its final stretch, nevertheless, the concepts are interesting, even if not developed well, it has a nice cast, some very interesting use of music and editing (especially in the New Orleans brass band sections), and doles out some decent action moments, keeping its head above just enough water to keeping it from sinking down from the sheer implausibility of it all.
©2015 Vince Leo