Director: Tarsem Singh
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Ben Kingsley, Natalie Martinez, Matthew Goode, Victor Garber
Running Time: 116 minutes
One of the most challenging tasks every living being has to face is the creation and discovery of our identity. A universal mission with billions of variables, our identity is key to what makes people unique. However, what if science allowed us to take someones body and identity? What if our identity simply became a form of currency for the various social classes? These questions are some of the big questions that spark the core concept of SELF/LESS, a sci-fi summer blockbuster that, like its core premise, unsuccessfully steals from better films.
Damian (Ben Kingsley) is very rich, very egotistical, and very sick. Fighting a loosing battle with cancer, Damian’s doctors have given him a few months to live. Science, however, offers Damian another option called “shedding.” Simply swap his consciousness into a new body and have is old body destroyed, giving Damian another chance at youth. Taking fully advantage of his younger, stronger body (Ryan Reynolds) Damian continues his power-fantasy until he learns that the bodies old consciousness isn’t quite gone, and its fighting to take back its body.
Conceptually the film builds upon a unique look at immortality that separates our identity from the physical. The concept provides a strong enough foundation to keep one’s interest throughout the film, yet we never get answers to the numerous questions raised throughout. Still, screenwriters David and Alex pastor should be recognized for a script that manages to explain its concept without relying too much on exposition. Thankfully, this means the film moves at a fast pace, especially when you consider the terrible characters.
Surprisingly the biggest issue is Ben Kingsley, a terrific actor who is terribly miscast here. Kingsley naturally exudes a lot of charm, yet is thrown into a role that requires none of it. Instead we are left with him attempting to play a womanizing old man too blinded by money to acknowledge his mortality. Reynolds fares a little better striking a balance between confused and empathetic, but still fails at sparking life into his character. Matthew Goode probably fares the best as the scientist involved with “shedding,” but even he becomes nothing more than an archetype.
It is a shame because, like I’ve said, SELF/LESS is very interesting, but eventually boils down to a check-list of action beats. Once Damian enters Reynold’s body the film shifts from a potential sci-fi spectacle to an action movie slog. Clichéd action set-pieces like a farmhouse assault, a slow car chase, and the assault on the evil companies laboratory litter the second half. All of this results in a film that feels as if it’s made by a committee rather than the singular vision of the director. In fact director Tarsem Singh, whose previous work includes IMMORTALS and MIRROR, MIRROR, fails to bring any style to the film. A lack of direction feels evident as certain scenes and sets feel ripped out of science-fiction classics like BLADE RUNNER and MINORITY REPORT.
There hasn’t been a lot of strong science-fiction this summer, so SELF/LESS had a lot of room to shine. Unfortunately the film lacks an identity of its own, which might make it the most ironic movie of the summer instead.
SELF/LESS is released in US cinemas July 10 and the UK July 17.