Self/less is the newest high-concept science fiction thriller, a subgenre that always piques my interest. Unfortunately, Self/less takes an interesting high concept, ignores most of the logic or interesting moral/ethical/philosophical concerns that tie into that concept in order to devolve into a dumb chase movie.
Real estate mogul Damian (Ben Kingsley), attempting to prevent his own imminent death, agrees to a radical medical procedure called “shedding.” His doctor (Matthew Goode), transplants his consciousness into the body of a younger man (Ryan Reynolds). However, Damian begins to experience memories and visions of a life he never knew, one that belonged to the person whose body he is now in (it is actually less confusing than it sounds). He beings to investigate as well as try to decide the fate of his mind and his new body. The film moves in a simple linear direction, and while it is always clear as to what is happening, this is the kind of film that could have benefited from a murkier approach. It is straightforward enough to be closer to something like an extended Twilight Zone episode than an engaging feature.
This is a blandly conceived film, with the only watchability coming from director Tarsem Singh. While his visual mastery isn’t as in demand as it was for his previous films Mirror, Mirror and Immortals, Singh’s direction imbues the film with a competent visual language, elevating it from unwatchable to polished turd. After his last two films, it would be wonderful to see him given a bit more of a budget, or even just attached to a franchise to get a good box office draw under his belt. All respect to James Wan, but Singh would be well suited to something like Aquaman.
The cast is the other major highlight, with Ben Kingsley and Ryan Reynolds doing a convincing enough job portraying the same character in different situations (it helps that the character has a thinly developed personality and motivation). Also frustrating is the casting of Michelle Dockery as Damian’s daughter. Dockery is given so little to do, it almost feels like a waste to have the character in the film. But that may just be me being an overeager Downton Abbey fan (she’s a really great actress).
While Self/less hits the mark where the technical aspects of filmmaking is concerned, the storytelling is threadbare at best, making the experience of watching the film predictable and unengaging.
Self/less opens in Philly area theaters today.