There’s a really intriguing sci-fi premise at the center of the completely disposable new sci-fi flick ‘Self/less’. The problem is that it’s pretty much the exact premise of John Frankenheimer’s 1966 masterpiece ‘Seconds‘. That movie delivers fully on its central concept to deliver one of the most disturbingly dark sci-fi fantasies in Hollywood history. ‘Self/less’, on the other hand, quickly devolves into a mindless shoot ’em up after a tantalizing first act.
Ben Kingsley stars as a totally evil businessman who crushes everything in his path except for the cancer that’s slowly killing him. Of course, bad ol’ Ben isn’t about to let something as asinine as cancer kill him, so he decides to look into alternatives. He soon learns of a special service provided by Matthew Goode’s clearly evil scientist that will allow him to transport his mind into a freshly cloned body and start all over again. For the low-low price of one quarter of a billion dollars, Kingsley accepts and soon finds himself looking like Ryan Reynolds and living in New Orleans.
This leads to a montage of street basketball and sexual conquest, because as we all know those are the pillars of youth. The guy does start to miss his daughter a little bit, though. After forgetting to take his required body-swap medication, he also experiences strange hallucinations that suggest his new Ryan Reynolds body isn’t so new after all. Uh oh! Guess he’ll have to go investigate. I sure hope that he picked up some gun-fighting and jump-kicking chops along with the new body. (Spoiler alert: Don’t worry, he did.)
At first, anyone who has seen ‘Seconds’ will likely be rather frustrated by the first half hour or so of ‘Self/less’ since it copies that classic to a degree so extreme that it starts to feel like plagiarism. Had the movie been a remake or at least served up some sort of “based on” credit, that might have been forgivable. But to steal from such an iconic film so blatantly is insulting to viewers who have dug deeply into this particular genre. It would likely be controversial were it not for the fact that the movie serves up so many other things to hate before the credits roll that the Frankenheimer theft gets buried beneath the crap.
First off, there’s Kingsley’s New Yawk accent that’s so woefully off-key you can’t help but wonder how such an accomplished actor could fall so far off the mark. Perhaps he was trying to sabotage the movie from the inside, or more likely he just didn’t care about the dumb flick at all. Certainly, Reynolds is phoning it in. He doesn’t bother trying to mimic Kingsley’s performance in any way, shape or form. Nor does he even manage to deliver a decent Ryan Reynolds performance. There’s no snap of life to Reynolds’ work like there is when he’s at his best. The guy is barely even present.
To be fair, that’s true of the entire cast (with the exception of Goode, who is delightfully creepy and not-so-delightfully wasted). No one seems particularly interested in their characters. After the premise is established, every idiotic plot twist is little more than an excuse to set up a boom-boom action scene. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that if the action is at least fun. Sadly, there’s not even much fun to be had during the barrage of tedious shoot-outs and bland car chases. The whole movie feels like a tired exercise of professionals going through the motions assuming that those motions will guarantee them success. Nope. There will be none of that.
The strangest part is that the movie comes from director Tarsem Singh, a filmmaker who has taken on similarly stupid subject matter in films like ‘The Cell‘ and ‘The Fall‘ and transformed them into compulsively watchable spectacle through his vivid visual imagination. Aside from some well-framed shots, Singh doesn’t bring any spark to the table this time – just his mediocre grasp of storytelling. ‘Self/less’ feels like the product of filmmakers and actors who were punching in for work with little care or concern for the final output.