Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Tarsem Singh
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Natalie Martinez, Matthew Goode, Ben Kingsley, Victor Gerber, Derek Luke, Jaynee-Lynn Kinchen, Melora Hardin, Michelle Dockery, Sam Page, Brandan McCarthy.
What starts out as a slick high concept sci-fi thriller and morality tale slowly deteriorates into a formulaic and routine action thriller by the end.
Damian Hart (Ben Kinglsey) is a ruthless billionaire real estate mogul who has been given a death sentence when he is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. He is estranged from his only daughter Claire (Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery), an idealist who runs an independent environmental activist group in New York. He accesses a radical cutting edge scientific treatment known as “shedding”, which has been developed by Albright (Matthew Goode, from The Imitation Game, etc), the CEO of the shadowy Phoenix Biogenic Corporation. He has developed a technique in which a person’s consciousness and intellect is transferred into the body of a much younger man organically grown in the laboratory. Shades of Frankenstein.
Now known as Edward, the younger Damian (Ryan Reynolds) begins a new life in a new body in a new state where nobody knows who he is. But while living the good life in New Orleans, Damian is plagued by disturbing flashbacks of a previous life which is unfamiliar to him. Drawn to finding the woman (Natalie Martinez) he sees in his visions in the hope that she can help him understand what is happening, Damian finds himself being hunted by some ruthless thugs, led by the impassive Anton (Derek Luke), who will stop at nothing to protect the secret behind Albright’s technology.
Self/less has been written by the scriptwriting siblings David and Alex Pastor (the zombie horror film Carriers, etc), but it is derivative stuff, and a rather lazy variation on the body swap subgenre. Despite a promising start it quickly deteriorates once Reynolds takes over from Kingsley. The concept of transforming an older man into a younger man’s body was the premise behind John Frankenheimer’s chilling 1966 psychological thriller Seconds, which starred Rock Hudson. But this film replaces Frankenheimer’s expertly crafted and pervasive air of paranoia with the tropes of the pursuit thriller with some car chases and routine, formulaic action sequences.
The longer the film goes on the more far fetched and troubling it becomes, and the more questions it raises. And what kind of laboratory conveniently has a flame thrower just lying around?
The director is Tarsem Singh, whose previous films like The Cell and The Fall showed great imagination and visual flair. But unfortunately he is working as a gun for hire here, and Self/less is pretty bland both visually and stylistically. Cinematographer Brendan Galvin uses the locations well and he captures both the coldness of New York’s glass and concrete cityscape and the warmth and vibrant energy of New Orleans.
Despite his prominent billing, Kingsley is only on screen for about ten minutes, and although he has a commanding presence he is given little to do in a thankless role that has probably paid off his swimming pool. Worse, he seems to have phoned in his performance. Reynolds has never quite cut is as the action hero, and even though he seems to have bulked up to plays the protagonist here, a former special services soldier with a special set of skills, he is unconvincing. Cast largely against type here, Goode is suave as the villainous scientist who has pushed the boundaries of science without considering the ethics behind his program or the consequences of his actions.
Reviewed by GREG KING