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Self/less boasts a potential-packed premise, but does frustratingly little with it, settling for lackluster action at the expense of interesting ideas.
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There's a Twilight Zone premise - though sadly no Twilight Zone brevity or script discipline - to this sci-fi thriller.
A sci-fi thriller so derivative of John Frankenheimer's masterfully paranoid Seconds it would be more accurate to call it Thirds, Tarsem Singh's Self/less is a generic waste of a clever idea.
Tarsem Singh has a reputation for making movies that are visually stunning but woefully inert and convoluted in their storytelling (see The Cell and The Fall). Singh's most recent film, Self/less, lives up to at least half of that reputation.
What starts out as an interesting exploration of identity soon gives way to the uninspired, generic action flick we had feared it always was.
Deep under the skin of this shrug of a movie is a solid metaphor rooted in an appealing fantasy.
There's no reason to spoil what follows except to say that even by the standards of both Alfred Hitchcock and science fiction, it's nonsensical.
The film-makers eschew any attempt to tackle the deep themes the storyline initially throws up.
Self/less turns into a generic chase film, but the really sad aspect of it is that we can see the potential for something honestly thought-provoking and moving that the execution destroys before it can blossom.
Reynolds is fantastic as the morally conflicted hero, a fascinating combination of Hamlet and Hulk; and the supporting cast, including Goode, Kingsley and the always engaging Victor Garber, is spot on.
It is a messy film, with many points of interest, multiple sources for character motivation, and frantic sways between emotion and action.
A high action, shoot 'em up flick that bombards your senses as well as your common sense.
Self/less is a movie with ideas that are disappointingly traded in for a series of bland action sequences
Though its themes are a bit familiar, Self/less is an exciting and provocative film. When faced with his impending death a wealthy businessman named Damian Hale undergoes an experimental procedure to have his consciousness placed into a genetically engineered body, but after experiencing several vivid hallucinations he discovers that he's actually been placed inside the body of another person whose mind is being suppressed. Ryan Reynolds gives a strong performance, as does Ben Kingsley. And the film does a good job at exploring the moral questions that arise from extending life and switching bodies, along with the nature of life and what makes up a person. Extraordinarily compelling, Self/less is a smart and well-crafted sci-fi thriller.
An uber-rich guy who is dying finds out about a way to live longer through some science fiction, which is a nice start to the piece and a decent idea for a story. Then it degenerates into a standard chase montage with the ever present people pointing guns at other people scenes. Eh.
More intriguing in premise than in practice, Self/Less is still none the less an entertaining sci-fi movie with intermittent moments of cleverness and heart. What makes it unusual is the quality of its actors. Reynolds and Kingsley are more than proven in the field, but in Self/Less they (particularly Kingsley) go from nailing it to mailing it seemingly at random, then switch back to A-grade the very next scene.
Where I had trouble making a connection to the narrative of the movie was in the body switching aspect. It's made clear that Kingsley has awoken in Reynold's body, but at no point in the film did it really feel like this was anything other than a completely new character, rather than an old one in a new form.
Still Self/Less is one of the more engaging films I've seen this year.
The most surprising thing about Self/less occurred approximately 115 minutes into the film itself, when it revealed that Tarsem Singh was the director. Tarsem is known for lavish visual cinematic canvases such as The Cell and Immortals, and to realize that this is the same man responsible for an otherwise disappointing and visually mundane sci-fi thriller. Why hire a visual stylist and then restrict him to such a limited palate? Self/less is an intriguing premise (borrowed a tad from Seconds) and it keeps all the interesting ethical and psychological questions at bay to follow a generic thriller formula. There's not one real surprise in this film; even the reveals and surprises will be easily telegraphed. Ben Kingsley plays Damian, a dying rich man who undergoes a risky experiment to live longer, having his consciousness transferred into a younger human host played by Ryan Reynolds. It's another chance to be young, party, enjoy sexual relations with women who are more likely to go home with somebody who looks like Reynolds. There's a catch: if he stops taking his special red pills, the host's brain will take over control. That's because, surprise, the bodies aren't grown in labs but are human volunteers. Here could be some topical class exploitation and social commentary, but Self/less ignores the more intriguing direction at every point to play it safe. Damian finds his host's family and from that point on it's a series of chases with bad guys. One of those chases is actually fairly entertaining, utilizing a conjoined automobile in a clever and devastating way. It never feels like Reynolds and Kingsley are playing the same character. Reynolds' charm is subsumed by this role and he feels adrift. I'll admit that this movie is efficient and each scene pushes the story forward; it's just the direction of that story I'd like to alter. Alas, Self/less is an competent but fairly underwhelming thriller that squanders its premise.
Nate's Grade: C+
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