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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Movie Review: #Self/less

The enjoyable action/thriller tries to be more than it ultimately produces.

Review by Matt Cummings

Actor Ryan Reynolds is undoubtedly one of Hollywood's biggest mysteries. Known for his good looks and likable on-screen presence, Reynolds has recently made several poor vehicles that have nothing to show off his abilities. Sans the very good Safe House, it's been one misstep after another. And don't even get me started on Green Lantern. Although Self/Less is nothing close to that disaster, it vacillates between action and smart technological thriller, doing neither particularly well.

When the New York billionaire Damien (Ben Kingsley) learns of his terminal cancer, he ventures to a facility that promises to extend his life in a most peculiar way: they will transfer his persona and memories into a genetically-grown body. Soon, Damien is the 40 years-younger Edward (Reynolds), who piles his way through a second youth of booze, women, and general high living. But soon, Edward starts to relieve memories that aren't his own, drawing him to a widowed woman (Natalie Martinez) and her former sickly daughter (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen). But the company and its owner (Matthew Goode) who transferred his consciousness are watching, and soon Edward finds himself in a spiral of dueling consciousnesses and dangerous motives that must end with one personality defeating the other.

Self/Less tries to be too many things and achieving only limited results. There's several very solid (not great) action set pieces, including a pretty car chase, and its questioning of man's ultimate time on our planet is done reasonably well. But there's such a radical shift between the two during the second act, it felt like Writers David and Alex Pastor were conflicted about which direction to go. Self/Less could have been a great technological thriller, but it's not; it could have been a great action flick, but it's not. Director Tarsem Singh, known for some of the most visually arresting films of the last decade (The Cell, Immortals), has only one similar sequence in Self/Less, in which Damien is testing the field in his new body. Had the movie been more like that, I think it would have smoothed over the inconsistencies in the story.

And there are many. Filled with frankly ridiculous plot devices - including an all-too easy Google search for his body's former home and a flamethrower which magically appears nears the end - Self/Less merely moves along the board without taking any bold directions to get to its end. We can see it coming a mile away, its multiple endings taking way too long to conclude. I'm serious, there are four endings here, with each one achieving less and less. Among them is an all-too-short subplot in which Edward/Damien and daughter Claire (Michelle Dockery) are reconciled in a sequence we can all imagine done better. There's also the "I could see that coming a mile away" reunion that again could have been smartly edited into one continuous (and probably more satisfying) end. For a smart filmmaker like Singh to unwisely extend the story leads to its ultimate failure.

Moviegoers will most likely draw similarities to the far-reaching and under-appreciated Bradley Cooper's Limitless, 1966's Seconds, and 2009's Carriers, against which Self/Less simply cannot compete. While the idea of transference is a timely one, it's unlikely that a brash and cut-throat businessman like Damien would suddenly evolve into a caring family man, even as the memories which draw him back become more pronounced. Moreover, if someone volunteers for something like this, it's most likely that the new host should leave well-enough alone. Afterall as Goode's Doctor Albright points out, some people just need more time to do brilliant things. But Edward seems destined to destroy his new personality, and the transition feels too severe and sudden.

Reynolds does play the likable guy between a rock and a hard place quite well. However, the conflict between his two personalities - imminently solvable by ingesting pills to kill the other one off - is never fully explored. It leaves a whole other conflict - potentially more interesting than the one we ultimately got - to the ether, with Reynolds barely able to recover. He's not a bad actor, but I keep waiting for the one great role to land in his lap. Perhaps the impending Deadpool will elevate his chances at landing better scripts. Kingsley and Victor Garber are equally enjoyable as business partners, their chemistry instantly recognizable as the movie begins, while Martinez and Kinchen make a good mother/daughter.

The overly-long Self/less won't wow you with its intelligence or blazing action pieces, but it will most likely entertain. Just don't expect to remember much after you leave; its thin summer backbone just isn't ready for such scrutiny.

Self/less is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, some sexuality, and language and has a runtime of 116 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


Thomas Watson July 15, 2015 at 12:54 AM  

I rather enjoyed the movie. It has flaws sure but it was still pretty good.

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