Interesting premise falls victim to needless action sequences
There’s something interesting, if not entirely original, in director Tarsem Singh’s “Self/Less.”
The idea of seeking immortality, no matter the cause, isn’t particularly new. You can find the theme being discussed since for centuries; more recently, you can find the concept being explored in various media from books to movies and in some scientific circles. Most of the theories tend to stick the physical, focusing on how to prevent the body from aging. Some, though, prefer to tackle the problem from another angle: In a phrase, body-hopping.
In this sense, “Self/Less” is interesting. It runs with the idea that once your body gives out, as it does for everyone at some point, you needn’t worry about dying. Just enter a new body, one that’s been mentally wiped clean, if you will.
This is the premise of the film, which opens with Damien (Ben Kingsley) on death’s door. The real estate tycoon, responsible for building what seems like half of Manhattan, is dying to an aggressive cancer, a parable reminding all us not-so-rich folks that death takes everyone, no matter how much money you have.
Unless, of course, some incredibly hi-tech sci-fi nonsense makes its presence known. Enter the body-hopping, or “shedding,” as this film describes it. A young, striking man by the name of Albright (Matthew Goode) introduces a surprisingly accepting Damien to his super shady technology, saying he can transfer the dying man’s mind into a younger, better looking and — most importantly — healthier body. It doesn’t ruin anything that Damien takes the bait, and it’s not long before we no longer see anything of Kingsley’s character and the story turns to the body he now inhabits: Ryan Reynold’s. (How the magnetic procedure works is never explained, under the assumption that it makes little to no sense if it ever were to be spelled out, but it actually plays a role later on.)
The story progresses with Damien enjoying his newfound body (honestly, if you could jump into Reynold’s body, you would), enjoying New Orleans and all the young women the city has to offer. But it doesn’t take long before this idyllic life to start deteriorating, as Damien forgets to take his medication one night, prompting hallucinations that may be more than they seem. To say more would strip away any surprise that the film offers, though it takes about six seconds to realize what’s actually going on.
But to say that the film rapidly turns from a plot focusing on a man’s fight with mortality and his own humanity to a plot that better belongs in a “Fast and Furious” film. The plethora of car chases and gun fights distract in the worst way, and it adds an even deeper layer of confusion to this already muddled endeavor.
And that doesn’t even deal with the film’s internal consistency. Damien goes from a greedy capitalist who spurns his own daughter until his dying days to a man who seeks to know the truth more for someone else than for himself in the blink of an eye. It makes no sense, especially since the idea of the “shedding” was to preserve his own sense of identity.
But credit it due when it comes to visuals of “Self/Less.” Director Singh is masterful when it comes to visual grandeur, and though the action sequences are distractions thematically, they’re damn gorgeous to watch. It’s a shame they’re stuck in a movie in which they don’t belong.
In the end, “Self/Less” is quick to squander a more interesting premise about morality, mortality and the never-ending struggle that rages between the two for a basic thriller that ends as predictably as any other. With little internal consistency and even less explanation plot-wise, the film falls apart before it can get good. But hey, just think about body-hopping into Ryan Reynolds. Hopefully that helps.
One “I don’t think that’s how magnets work” star out of five.