Self/less

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday November 15, 2015

Ryan Reynolds and Sir Ben Kinglsey swap off as the two actors who play the same character, a super-rich real estate developer named Damian Hale.

Reynolds plays Damian for the bulk of the film -- which makes sense, given that he's a hot hunk -- but Kingsley prepares us to treat him with some credibility, bringing as he does his trademark gravitas to the role. This is a new twist on the age-old fantasy of reclaiming youth: In this case, via the sci-fi means of trading in a dying old body for a healthy new one. But just where does the new body comes from? And -- the $200 million price tag aside -- who, exactly is paying the price for Damian's new lease on life? "Self/less" plays with issues of identity, but the title also suggests that greed is not always good, regardless of what Wall Street (and Gordon Gecko) might have the say.

The film is constructed as a thriller, with too many of the tired tropes the genre entails, like an evil, well-heeled Mad Scientist with an army of technicians and strong-arm heavies who look menacing but can't hit anything they shoot at, least of all our hero. Worse, there's a "strong" female character, played by Natalie Martinez, who really isn't that strong at all; she spends far too much time hanging around the margins when fists start flying, making bafflingly stupid moves, and tearily blurting our lines like "What's going on?!" and "Talk to me!"

Even weighed down with these disappointing cliches, the movie has a certain cleverness about it. The evil scientist is played by Matthew Goode, and he's a diabolical charmer; New Orleans becomes a character in the film, much to its improvement; Victor Garber turns in an intelligent performance as Damian's business partner, Martin, who is reluctantly entangled in the body-swapping scheme and its nefarious implications; there's even a cameo by Michelle Dockery, of "Downton Abbey" fame, who plays Damian's estranged daughter.

Kingsley and Reynolds don't really convince you that the same person has migrated from one body to the other, but to do that we'd need a different sort of movie -- one that's less about explosions, high-tech lairs, and flame throwers and more about the ways in which age and youth are bound up with time and experience, regret and perspective -- or, alternatively, come down to hormone levels and lean muscle mass. "Self/less" slips some of that in around the edges, but never ventures much outside its genre pigeonhole.

The Blu-ray release offers some fun features, including a feature called "Inside 'Self/less,'" in which director Tarsem Singh talks about wanting to make a sci-fi flick with some feeling of realism about it, and the cast discuss their characters and the story.

"On the Run: The Action of 'Self/less'" focuses on the fight choreography and an elaborate car chase.

"Shedding" brings futurists and neuro-scientists in for a chat about the "science future" of transferring a human mind into another body, whether biological or mechanical in nature.

Tarsem Singh also appears in a commentary track, in which he happily shares his recollections and insights. He never gets too technical, but he does point out places he wishes he'd done signs differently -- and while he praises his cast and crew, he never comes off as faking his enthusiasm. When he reveals that the film's montage scenes are as well done as they are because his editors have a number roof music videos to their credit, you understand that this is someone neither lost to the mists of "art," nor cynically chasing a paycheck, and that makes it easier to forgive some of the movie's failings.


"Self/less"
Blu-ray
$29.98
http://www.focusfeatures.com/browse/movies

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Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.