Self/LessReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 07/09/15 16:20:53
"Self/less" is a film that tells the story of an obscenely wealthy person who spends over a quarter-million dollars in a desperate bid to achieve some form of immortality only to discover to his horror that his efforts have landed him in the middle of an eminently forgettable Ryan Reynolds vehicle. It takes a promising premise and then proceeds to squander it completely thanks to a combination of a ridiculously derivative screenplay, faulty casting and a shockingly lackluster visual style. The result is the kind of aggressively lackluster product that plays like a busted pilot to a would-be television series and whose target audience seems to be people who showed up too late at the multiplex to see "Inside Out" or "Jurassic World" and who figure that watching it is better than nothing, never dreaming just how close that particular footrace might turn out to be.As the film opens, we are introduced to Damian Hale (Ben Kingsley), a New York real estate magnate whose lifetime of work has left him with zillions in his bank account, a deeply estranged daughter (Michelle Dockery) and a body that is now rapidly approaching its expiration date. One day, he hears about a mysterious entity know as Phoenix Biogenics that promises miracles for anyone able to meet their $250 million price tag and meets with their calm, cool and highly reclusive CEO, Albright (Matthew Goode), to find out what they do. They offer a top secret (though easily Googled) process known as "shedding" that allows people to shed their old and useless bodies for a brand new and organically grown replacement model fresh from the lab. Doing this means cutting all ties with your past existence, though not with your memories, but it gives the best and brightest (not to mention the richest) another chance to live and contribute to the world. Damian signs on the dotted line and after going through the process, he emerges in the form of Ryan Reynolds. (On the deleted scenes section of the Blu-Ray, I eagerly await the scene in which Albright patiently explains to Damian that the Chris Pratt model is on backorder.)
Now known as Edward, Damian relocates to New Orleans and sows his wild grits for a while until he finds himself increasingly distressed by some mysterious visions that he had during one of his hallucinations. After doing some investigating on his own (thank you Google), he goes off to St. Louis and discovers to his surprise (and presumably only his) that his new body may not be the lab-created miracle that it is cracked up to be. This becomes even more evident when Damian comes across a single mother (Natalie Martinez) and her precocious young daughter (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) who have their own very personal connection to his Edward alter-ego. This discovery puts the three of them in danger as Phoenix's security detail, led by Anton (Derek Luke), an easy-to-maim, hard-to-kill type who winds up deploying his employee discount a lot, close in on them to stop them permanently lest the horrifying secrets of Phoenix be revealed to the world. One might argue that they could start by relocating their labs from their current location in a New Orleans warehouse near where they store the Mardi Gras floats but never mind.)
Many observers have commented on the numerous similarities between this film and "Seconds," the haunting 1966 cult classic from John Frankenheimer about a rich but unhappy man who visits a clinic that provides him with a new look--that of Rock Hudson--and a new life that nevertheless goes quite wrong for him when he begins to ask too many questions. I object to this comparison on two points. First, there is no way that a film as brilliant as "Seconds" (and you should seek it out immediately if you have never seen it) deserves to be compared in any way to something as trite and inane as "Self/less"--placing the two titles in the same sentence alone feels like a violation of sorts. Second, there is hardly a film from the last half-century or so dealing with the subject of body swapping that it doesn't outright steal from at one time to another--from "Face/Off" to "Parts: The Clonus Horror," there are so many thefts in the screenplay by Alex and David Pastor that the result is one of those movie that genre buffs can pass the time with by seeing who can come up with the longest list of lifts. They won't have to worry about any possible distractions since there is nothing about the movie itself that will draw their attention--the story is a bore in which the concept is played out in the dumbest manner imaginable, every possible plot twist is telegraphed far in advance, the performances range from the painfully bland (Reynolds) to the painfully broad (Kingsley's take on a New York accent is particularly ripe) and the action scenes are snoozers--and at 116 minutes, they will have plenty of time to kill.
What is particularly galling about "Self/less" is that it was directed by Tarsem Singh, the director whose past credits include works as "The Cell," "The Fall," "Immortals," "Mirror Mirror" and the video for "Losing My Religion." Some of these films may have been uneven in terms of overall quality but Singh gave each one an extraordinary visual style that even their detractors were forced to acknowledge. At a time when films are looking more and more alike, Singh is one of those rare filmmakers who longs to show viewers things that they have never seen before and which will rattle around in their heads long after they do. "The Cell" and "The Fall," in particular, are two of the most stunning looking films I have seen in my years as a film critic and even something as dopey as "Immortals" has more neat-looking moments than most otherwise good movies that I can easily recall. Well, he was one of those filmmakers, I guess, because not even the most finely-tuned auteurist could watch this and determine even the trace of a personal touch--it is as if he underwent the shedding process himself and came out as Simon West. Needless to say, this is not an improvement and the result is the first Tarsem Singh film that does not contain a single memorable image of note for film lovers to savor long after the dumber stuff on display has faded into the mists of time."Self/less" is the kind of bummer where you wonder how the people involved were able to develop the intestinal fortitude required to continue on even after it must have become apparent that it just was not working. There is not a single interesting thing about that I could recall even a couple of hours after watching it and a bigger mystery than any presented in the film proper is why anyone thought that Singh would be the right guy for the material. Maybe Singh wanted to see if he could make the kind of soulless and visually bland film that his previous efforts have stood in marked contrast to in the past. If that is the case, then I offer my heartiest congratulations to Tarsem Singh along with a plea for him never to do such a thing again
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