It’s rare for a movie to have individual scenes that seem to be ripped off from “Rocky”, “Commando”, and “Wedding Crashers”, but the perplexingly titled “Self/less” manages to do it. There’s a training montage, an over-the-top violent death, and a quickly edited sequence in which a character beds several women.
“Self/less” deserves some credit for managing to pull all that off, but the mishmash of direction and several eyebrow cocking moments ruin what is a great sci-fi premise. This movie can’t decide if it wants to be a chase thriller, a moral drama, or an introspective look at the frailty of human life.
Ben Kingsley is Damian, a New York real estate mogul. His penthouse apartment that overlooks Central Park is lush with gold, crystal chandeliers, and an indoor stone fountain. Opulence, he has it. Unfortunately, he also has terminal cancer leaving him with six months to live.
Damian comes across a mysterious business card that mentions a process called “shedding”. He then meets with Albright (Matthew Goode), a scientist who is so sleazy from the get go that it’s hard to believe a man as intelligent as Damian would agree to do anything that he says.
Since logic only pops up when needed in “Self/less”, Damian settles his affairs with his business partner, Martin (Victor Garber), tries to come to terms with his estranged daughter, Claire (Michelle Dockery), then undergoes the “shedding” process. This process takes his consciousness and dumps it into a younger body that Albright claims was created in a lab.
After some training and backstory creation, Damian (now Ryan Reynolds) goes out into the world and lives it up for a few weeks in New Orleans, driving fast cars, playing hoops with the locals, and attempting to match Wilt Chamberlain in the sexual relations department.
Damian’s new life goes haywire when he begins to have visions of Madeline (Natalie Martinez) and her daughter, Anna (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen). Damian is shocked to learn that his new body may have (GASP) been acquired via nefarious methods.
This is, of course, all completely telegraphed. “Self/less” becomes a game of cat and mouse, with Damian running from Albright’s army of goons hellbent on keeping their illegal money making scheme secret. There’s shootouts, house fires, car chases, and one of the most unintentionally funny and preposterous on screen deaths of all time.
Even if you aren’t a fan of director Tarsem Singh’s previous movies such as “The Fall” or “The Cell”, it’s impossible to argue they aren’t visually brilliant. “Self/less” includes the sci-fi/fantasy that usually fills Singh’s movies, but lacks anything remotely close to visual originality. This is a muddy bore that looks like it was shot as if it would appear on the ScyFy Network. It is B-level action movie garbage of the highest order.
Poor Ryan Reynolds needs new talent management. For a charismatic, likable actor, he appears in clunker after clunker. He’s at his best in “Self/less” when his character is carefree and snarky while whooping it up in the French Quarter, then he seems a bit lost when he suddenly does a 180 and starts to care about others.
This is probably due to the all over the map script by David and Alex Pastor, who don’t seem to know how they want the younger version of Damian to act. Reynolds is trying really hard to make this nonsense work, but his good looks and charm can’t keep the wheels from flying off.
Ben Kingsley is only in “Self/less” for the first thirty minutes and it’s a laughable disaster for such a fine actor. His New York accent is so goofy that it can only be described as going “Full Pacino”. All that Kingsley is missing are a few “whooo haaaas” or random shouting of dialogue that shouldn’t be shouted.
“Self/less” is what happens when the movie business gets their greedy hands on a good idea. Instead of allowing a movie to sell itself on smarts (see “Ex Machina”), it tricks it up with loads of action movie nonsense in an attempt to reach the lowest common denominator of movie goers. Sure, this movie may make a decent chunk of change to fill the pockets of those invested, but it does it while sacrificing any hope of uniqueness or originality.