2015, PG-13, 116 min. Directed by Tarsem Singh. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Natalie Martinez, Matthew Goode, Ben Kingsley, Victor Garber, Derek Luke, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, Michelle Dockery, Melora Hardin.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 10, 2015
Wealth can’t buy health, happiness, or immortality, but in the world of Self/less, wealth can buy you maybe another 50 years of life. That sounds like a good deal to Damian Hale (Kingsley), a brash, Donald Trump-style real estate tycoon who hasn’t long to live. To thwart imminent death, Damian purchases and undergoes a secretive, unlicensed procedure called “shedding,” in which his intellect, memories, and everything that makes him Damian is transferred into a new, younger body that’s just waiting to be inhabited. The only stipulations are that it must appear to the world as though you’ve already died, you can never ever again make contact with anyone from your previous life, and you must swallow a continual supply of red capsules that prevent “hallucinations” and other dissociative disruptions of the mind and body (like anti-rejection drugs used for other organ transplants). Not a bad deal for $250 million, thinks Damian.
Yet just as you begin settling into these science-fiction parameters and start pondering the wisdom of humanity’s vain quest for immortality, Self/less switches gears, much to its detriment, and becomes a frenzied chase thriller and shoot-‘em-up. Shedding has endowed the dying Damian with the buff body of Ryan Reynolds, and though he no longer speaks with an extreme New York accent or suffers from a peanut allergy, Young Damian still has all of Old Damian’s baggage (including an unresolved relationship with his daughter, who now believes him to be dead).
Things start going south following a giddy post-surgical sojourn in New Orleans during which we’re treated to a visual whirlwind of Young Damian testing the partying capacities of his new body. It’s the only section that displays any of the visual flair that director Tarsem Singh (The Cell) has made his calling card. Going AWOL from the program, Young Damian pursues the hallucinations that have been troubling him, and winds up (through an improbable Google image search) in Missouri and on the run with single mother Madeline (Martinez) and her young daughter (Kinchen). The body count mounts as the plot grows more nefarious, and though there’s a lot of action, little of it is illuminating or involving. The experiences also convert Young Damian into a compassionate human being, a far cry from his former self, which allows the film (scripted by brothers David and Àlex Pastor) to end on a saccharine note, compounding the overall disappointment in the film.