A Pretentious Bore

You deserve better than the dull, stuffy Self/less

FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Self/less
Opens Friday 10
2 out of 5

BC native Ryan Reynolds sure seems like a nice guy and he’s given indications he can act (Buried, The Voices). Yet he continues to star in vehicles doomed to fail (R.I.P.D., Turbo, The Change-Up and, most tragically, Green Lantern). Now he tries his luck with a mid-budget, less-fun-than-it-should-be body-swap drama.

It’s about as good as it looks from the trailers. Which is to say: not very.

Self/less kicks off with Damian (Ben Kingsley), a filthy-rich developer facing impending death (Reynolds doesn’t even appear until around 20 minutes in). Unwilling to let go, the millionaire puts his fate in the hands of an unscrupulous scientist named Albright (Matthew Goode, The Imitation Game) who promises him eternal life.

“Shedding” (the technique Albright uses) consists of transferring the millionaire’s mind into a young man’s body (Reynolds) by using electricity (just go with it). The operation is a success, except for recurrent flashbacks hinting at the original owner’s former life. A principled man, Damian decides to look into it against the shady doctor’s orders. Standard action set-pieces ensue. (Conveniently, the body used to belong to a marine.)

Maybe 23 years ago you saw Freejack (the same principle, with Anthony Hopkins and Emilio Estevez starring) and thought, “I’d like to see this same plot, only in a duller and more ethically minded film.” If so, Self/less is for you. Reynolds doesn’t even bother to ape Kingsley’s mannerisms or personality: if it wasn’t explained a tiresomely large number of times, you’d never know they were supposed to be the same personality.

The theme (Is living forever worth it if it costs your soul?) and expository dialogue leave no room for subtlety, let alone any space for a bit of humour to sneak in — which is kind of a waste, considering that Reynolds is much better at comedy than action.

How heavy-handed is Self/less? Early in the movie we see Kingsley ogling a waitress. Cut to half an hour later and Reynolds is sleeping with every attractive girl that crosses his path (but he’s kind of sad about it).

Among the many bad decisions the film makes, a particularly noticeable one is picking Louisiana as the setting. New Orleans is known for many things, but cutting-edge science isn’t one of them. The first thought that crossed my mind was “tax credits” (Remember those? Sigh). The action feels shoehorned and cheap, and a fine actor, Derek Luke (Captain America), is wasted playing the muscle.

I wasn’t expecting much from this movie, but one surprising letdown is that Self/less lacks in visual flair. Director Tarsem Singh has long been known for his rich palette, even when he’s given terrible scripts (Immortals, Mirror Mirror, The Cell). But Self/less is drab and sterile, a pale shadow of Singh’s most vibrant compositions.

Maybe he wasn’t very invested in the project, or maybe he just gave up after reading the script. Either way, audiences will be able to relate.

2015-07-09

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