When I first saw the trailer for ‘Self/less’ I was quite excited. This looked really interesting. Sure, body-swap movies are nothing new, but this one looked like it might be a bit more.
I was partly correct - this isn’t really another body-swap movie. While it is a movie about one guy talking over the body of another, the failure of the lead actor to inhabit that role soon causes that primary premise to fall by the wayside. Then the film just becomes another one of those "everyman trying to save family" clichés. Please, can we have a main character with a different motivation? Please?
‘Self/less’ starts out rather promisingly. Ben Kingsley is Damien Hale, a stupidly rich New York property developer, estranged from his daughter and dying of cancer. All his money can’t save him or so he thinks, until he finds a card in his pocket with a number and a note: “They can help you.” The note steers him to Mr Albright (Mathew Goode), a mysterious scientist who promises Hale the process of "shedding" – transferring out of his disintegrating body into a brand new, freshly lab-grown one… for $250 million. That’s spare change to Hale, so he signs up, and soon finds himself inhabiting Ryan Reynolds’ Edward and taking regular "anti-rejection" medication.
Things don’t go downhill straight away (narratively or for Damien). He enjoys his new lease of life as Eddie, making friends, partying, and bringing home a succession of babes. But a missed pill results in painful flashes of someone else’s memories. Albright is suspiciously blasé about it, so Damien investigates. He soon discovers that his shiny new body actually belonged to a man named Mark, and there’s a wife and child left behind. Of course, Albright isn’t happy about Damien’s defection, and nastiness ensues.
So I should explain my comments above on the lead actor. Poor Reynolds, he just doesn’t cut it. A bit like his performance in 'The Green Lantern', he’s just not the right fit. In ‘Self/less’ it’s as though he simply decided trying to play Kingsley in another body was just too hard, and didn’t bother, just played himself in the role instead. It falls very, very, flat. Reynolds is just not believable as Damien. Had we not met Kingsley’s Damien in the beginning, Reynolds might have pulled it off, but he just doesn’t.
Also, this is billed as a sci-fi thriller. It’s not that thrilling, and the science is pretty much nothing more than a handy plot device that serves its purpose and is then ignored. There was a lot of potential with the "shedding" premise which could have taken this film in a very different and novel direction. Unfortunately, director Tarsem Singh (‘Mirror Mirror’) and writers Alex and David Pastor played it too safe. The Pastor brothers also have something to answer for in the couple of gaping plot holes and conveniences that I won’t go into here.
The failure of the lead actor to inhabit that role soon causes that primary premise to fall by the wayside.
So what’s good about it? The support cast, for one thing. I usually like Victor Garber’s roles, and this is no exception. His reactions as Damien’s friend Martin are what some of Reynolds' should have been. Natalie Martinez (‘Under the Dome’) as Mark’s wife Maddie makes up somewhat for the flatness of Reynolds with plenty of emotion. But she doesn't overplay it, and she certainly doesn’t let it detract from her character. Matthew Goode (‘The Good Wife’) is an excellent villain, embracing the Hollywood trope of casting Brits as bad guys. He’s calm, cool, and completely unfazed, and that can be damn creepy.
Apart from the performances, Singh’s technique of overlapping timeframes to move the story along is pretty good. It takes a moment to get used to, but after that works well, particularly in this film. Had the film embraced a more sci-fi leaning, the overlap would have worked even better. Speaking of pacing, the story does move along quite well; no time is wasted. The soundtrack is decent, and the special effects, such as they are, are good too.
So, bottom line? If you can ignore the shortcomings, ‘Self/less’ isn’t a waste of two hours, but I wouldn’t spend $20 on it at the cinemas. It’s just a shame that it could have been so much better.