Self/Less Plot Summary:
A wealthy business man (Ben Kingsley) on death’s door undergoes an underground medical procedure where his consciousness is transferred into the empty vessel of a young man (Ryan Reynolds). As Damian adapts to his new body, he has visions that aren’t his own, making him question where this new body came from.
Remember that movie Transcendence from last year with Johnny Depp, where Depp gets shot, and his consciousness is transferred into a computer? Didn’t think so. Well, this is a slightly better version of that, which isn’t saying much. Instead of a computer though, Ben Kingsley’s mind is transferred into Ryan Reynolds. This gives it a more human story, and it’s also a much cleaner version than the convoluted shit show that was Transcendence. In Transcendence, they over explain everything, making it even more ridiculous. With Self/Less, I appreciate how they quickly move the plot along, and basically explain everything with “here’s some sciencey stuff,” and bada bing, bada boom, we’re off and running. While this is an efficient screenplay, it’s lacking a certain oomph, and that’s ultimately the movie’s downfall.
Kingsley isn’t in the film much, but the first scene does a good job of establishing who this guy is. Even at death’s door, Damian refuses to step down from his company, constantly fighting to stay relevant. He refuses to go quietly into the night, which is why he undergoes the procedure, in essence, getting a second life. The main doctor, Albright, played adequately by Matthew Goode, has an ominous creep vibe to him, so you know there’s a crap load they aren’t telling Damian, otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie.
The protagonist is Damian, but played by Ryan Reynolds. Poor Ryan Reynolds. This guy can’t catch a break. If you need a flop, call Reynolds. In all seriousness though, he’s a talented actor. He’s shown he can be more than Van Wilder, he just isn’t getting the scripts. The character is written fairly flat, but Reynolds brings a life to him that elevates the movie. If this role were played by Jai Courtney for example, we could have had real problems. To see Damian enjoy his new body, but struggle with the mental consequences was fascinating at times. The script gives him a clear character arc, and Damian’s estranged relationship with his daughter (Michelle Dockery) gives the story a lot of weight as the film goes on. The dynamic between Damian and his long time business partner (Victor Garber) was also a strong element to the film. My only real complaint with Reynold’s performance is I never felt like he was trying to emulate Ben Kingley, which I expected as they’re ultimately the same person. I blame the direction (Tarsem Singh) for this more than the actor though.
While I empathized with Reynold’s character, it’s still ultimately a mediocre film because of how predictable it was. You can predict this entire movie within the first twenty minutes. For two hours I felt like I was just going through the motions. Aside from a few emotional character moments, the overall feel was underwhelming, from some lame car chases to a very methodical climax. Everything was also way too convenient. It seems like everyone Damian came into contact with was in on the joke.
This is fine to Netflix on a rainy day, but it’s pretty standard. Most of the characters are too nonchalant about the whole situation. Seriously, we’re talking about people’s minds being transferred into other bodies, but everyone is just like “eh.” The screenplay had promise, and Reynolds and Kingsley bring some life to it, but it’s a pretty underwhelming effort from the director.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (Slightly Better Than ‘Meh’)
Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.