Directed by Tarsem Singh. Produced by Ram Bergman, Peter Schlessel, and James D. Stern. Written by David Pastor and Àlex Pastor. Release date: July 10, 2015.
Self/less is another one of those movies that has a premise worth exploring, but one that decides to forego exploring that premise in favor of a generic action-chase movie. Here is a film in which a man’s mind can be transferred into the body of another, and yet very little of interest is done with it. There’s limitless potential here, and yet all we get is Ryan Reynolds running around and either chasing bad guys or being chased by them.
The character that eventually gets played by Ryan Reynolds is named Damian. He starts off as Ben Kingsley, as an older businessman who is a few months away from succumbing to the cancer currently plaguing his body. He turns to Albright (Matthew Goode), the man who has perfected this mind-swapping technology. His new body is lab-grown, he’s told, and soon enough, he wakes up in the body of Ryan Reynolds. But things aren’t exactly as they appear, as Damian soon begins experiencing hallucinations that feel more like memories, he has to continually popping pills that are only given to him a week at a time, and he’s constantly being monitored by Albright’s staff. Something is amiss, and if you’ve already guessed that the “amiss” part is Albright and his company, it’s almost like you’ve watched a single sci-fi movie in your lifetime. Congratulations.
The result is what you’d get if you mixed In Time and Source Code, unfortunately taking on the lack of quality from the former and only really stealing the primary moral dilemma from the latter, but providing a much simpler solution. What results is a movie that sees its protagonist engage in several shootouts and fist fights with nameless villains, all while preaching to us its message, which essentially amounts to “do not steal the body of someone else with your mind.” You know, just in case that comes up in your day-to-day life. That’s all this “high-minded” film has to tell us, and it’s the only thing it does with its premise.
Self/less has been directed by Tarsem Singh, a name you may recognize from films like Immortals, Mirror Mirror, and The Cell. What those films had in common was an impressive visual style that made them stand out from their contemporaries. Self/less, meanwhile, is about as bland as bland can be, pretty much from start to finish. I wouldn’t have been able to tell this is a Singh film, and that’s about the one thing that I expect to be able to do when watching one. Sure, none of those movies are great, but their visuals almost make them worthwhile. Self/less can’t even claim that. Does it have any redeeming features?
It’s generic from start to finish, sure, but it’s not like it’s ever truly boring.
Well, it’s not a painful watch. It’s generic from start to finish, sure, but it’s not like it’s ever truly boring. You know where it’s going as soon as it begins, and you’ve seen all of these shootouts and fights before, but none of it is incompetently bad. If you’re watching your first movie, it’ll probably even be exciting! For most people, it’ll just be a thing. You’ll watch it, it’ll give you a bit of entertainment for a couple of hours, and then it’ll exit your mind without leaving an impression. That’s enough for some people. Given the rest of the trash in cinemas this weekend, Self/less is probably the best you’re going to be able to do anyway.
Ryan Reynolds can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to leading or having a supporting role in action movies. If Self/less was his attempt to reestablish himself as an action star, it’s not a successful one. It’s not even that his performance is particularly bad – it’s bland, but that hasn’t stopped lots of action heroes – it’s just that the film doesn’t do much for him. He gets to shoot guns and get in a fistfight or two, but since it’s all so generic, you begin to figure anyone could have been in the role.
Ben Kingsley is wasted in a role that only lasts about fifteen minutes. Matthew Goode plays an emotionless scientist relatively well, but like Kingsley has little to do. Supporting roles go to Natalie Martinez, Victor Garber, and Michelle Dockery – although you’d have to look up their characters’ names for yourself, as there’s so little to any of these people that they don’t register enough to be memorable.
Self/less comes across as a disappointment. It has a strong premise, but wastes it. It has a visually dynamic director, but doesn’t showcase his talents. It has good actors, but doesn’t give them much to do. What looks good on paper doesn’t always translate to the big screen. That’s why we actually make the movies instead of just listing elements on a sheet and imagining them.
Bottom Line: Self/less could have been an interesting sci-fi movie, but ultimately gets our hopes up just to shut them down.
Recommendation: Those starved for sci-fi of any variety might find something to like, but most will be best to avoid it in order to stop themselves from getting frustrated with its wasted potential.[rating=2]
If you want more of Matthew “Marter” Parkinson, you can follow him on the Twitter @Martertweet and check out his weekly movie podcast.