Release date: 17 July 2015
Running time: 117 min
Director: Tarsem Singh
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Natalie Martinez, Matthew Goode, Victor Garber, Ben Kingsley
Ryan Reynolds and Ben Kingsley are two wildly different actors, but both have their fair share of talent. They also both have a habit of appearing in material which doesn’t do them justice. Reynold’s goofy charm has landed him roles in a string of dodgy comedies and poorly conceived blockbusters, whereas Kingsley will pretty much star in anything. Alarm bells immediately start sounding when it becomes clear that they share top billing in Self/Less. In some ways this rings true; it falls into the usual formulaic, predictable Sci-Fi trappings, but it still manages to squeeze in some mildly diverting fun along the way.
Damian (Kingsley) is an incredibly successful real estate tycoon who has been told he has six months to live. After learning of a new technique called ‘shedding’, whereby consciousness is transferred from one body to another, he settles his assets, fakes his own death and gets ready to undertake the procedure. Waking up in the body of a handsome thirty-something (Reynolds), he immediately sets about doing all the stuff you’d expect, namely shagging and partying. However when his mind starts playing tricks on him, he realises that the body he has been gifted with is not quite what he expected. A film that’s packed full of engaging ideas, Self/Less could have been so much more if it had been blessed with a better script. As is stands, it is often so painfully on the nose that it elicits a groan or a laugh rather than any kind of chin-stroking. Similar in some ways to last year’s hokey Transcendence, it feels like an over-long episode of The Twilight Zone, filling the gaps in the story by having Ryan Reynolds beat some people up or indulge in a car chase.
What’s most baffling is that Self/Less is directed by Tarsem Singh (Immortals, The Fall), who is best known for his extravagant set design and unique approach to visuals. This doesn’t particularly showcase his fingerprints anywhere; it’s visually uninspiring and perfunctorily directed for the most part and incredibly run of the mill as a whole. It bears all the hallmarks of a competent but shallow Sci-Fi, the fact that it’s helmed by a stylish director like Singh feels strange, and perhaps slightly more disappointing. This sense of disappointment seems to be the critical consensus. It was unfairly met with some scathing early criticism after it premièred at Cannes, but it ticks along at an alright pace and the ideas are there, if not explored or fleshed out enough. Reynolds is undoubtedly miscast but is as likeable as ever, Matthew Goode does his usual ‘steely and evil’ routine, and the ten minutes or so of running time that Kingsley racks at least features him doing a slightly comedic ‘Noo Yoyk’ accent. The plot couldn’t be clearer signposted if it were tattooed all over Ryan Reynold’s face, but the journey to its inevitable finale is not entirely unpleasant. Just don’t expect it to linger in the mind for long.