There are trailers of movies which tend to have a likable cast and successfully makes us think – ‘thats an interesting concept’, but when you actually watch the film you are totally disappointed to know the film is everything you were hoping the film would not be. Another reason to add my interest to watch this film was the feel of the 90s type sci-fi action, similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s Total Recall. A sci-fi plot just to give our hero enough motive for some action. It’s not that it’s a bad idea, (the old switch the brain into someone else’s body which has been done numerous times) it’s just that it doesn’t seem to go anywhere and the actors don’t seem to care what is going on (except for a former wife, whose husband has been replaced). All they have added here is that the switching is done in an underhand way which I’ll leave the details out to those who haven’t seen it. The movie doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. Dramatic like Blade Runner? No. Action packed like Minority Report, where the agent also goes underground to right a wrong?. Not really. He goes rogue but then meets associates throughout the film and they hardly even care. Paradoxical, unpredictable and intriguing like Edge of Tomorrow, within an existential threat? No, just a couple of people running some sort of identity scam. I just sat down wondering what was the point of all this.
With a budget of $26million and a visually effective director Tarsem Singh (Immortals, The Fall, Mirror Mirror, The Cell) at the helm, what could go wrong right? A lot it seems! For a film which had some great potential quickly turns into a B movie. The story follows Damian Hale (Ben Kingsley), a billionaire dying of cancer and thinks he deserves a longer life. He takes on the mortality gamble through a questionable procedure developed by Dr. Albright (Matthew Goode). The procedure that will end his life, but place his soul into a new and improved body. After his death, he wakes up as a younger man (Ryan Reynolds), but soon realizes that there are some issues. Damian has visions that seem to imply that the body he is inhabiting may have been used before. As Damian asks for clarification from Dr. Albright and his organization, they begin to challenge his decisions and manipulate his new existence. With this comes the awareness of the man’s previous alter ego and his life attempting to take over. Both of the men who indwell the same body have to come to terms with the sacrifices that they both must make for the sake of living this new life. If the film’s description sounds convoluted, the viewing experience twists and turns beyond comprehension.
The film looks like a fresh spin on the fountain of youth narrative, but suffers from an identity crisis. Frankly, I liked the characters and I appreciate the effort put into developing them. Nevertheless there are definitely numerous scenes that could’ve been trimmed and still hold that level of character development. As for the mystery, the very first hallucination sequence gives it all away. The memory suppression medication doesn’t gradually fail in order to let in flashback-type clues, but instead floods the screen with all the pertinent information. The guesswork is immediately finished. And, while the film hopes to be a thinking man’s science-fiction piece, with the moral complexities of assimilating minds and reconnecting with estranged figures, many moments go straight for action-packed shootouts or fistfights. The scientific stuff is subtle, the adventure and familial drama are intermittent, and the pacing is casual or deliberately unhurried, marking a balancing act that is far from cohesive. There’s a surprising amount of good ideas lurking in this routine sci-fi scenario, but the assembly is conflicted at best. We get a very little taste of that with memories that seem to force themselves on the new “person” taking over the body but they really side step all that with magic red pills that they seemed to have developed before knowing really that they would need them. So you really do not get a struggle for control because if you continue to take your little red pills then the memories will dissipate. The only reason this is an issue in this movie is because the company doesn’t bother telling the people that they are moving into the new body that they body really isn’t brand new but slightly used. And that brings me to the outside portion of the struggle I wanted them to show more. The existential wrestling match is not new. The rich buying eternal life. There are urban legends of the rich striving for similar immortal opportunities in the real world. Yet, for it to work on the silver screen, the story does not have to be believable, but it does need to be probable. The audience has to consider if the experiment could potentially work if people are given enough money and find the right technology. It has worked in other films, but the disjointed feel of this film undermines the probability of this consideration. This is a story that was meant to be about acquiring eternal life, but ultimately is dead on arrival. Even with it’s failings, the film does redeem itself through the range of topics to consider about the human experience.
Showing that money can provide all the world has to offer, even the unbelievable, but mankind cannot find all it needs from life in mere material things. As both men go through the process of finding out what is important in their lives or life and they are confronted with an overarching theme of the ultimate sacrifice. Specifically, both central characters have to come to a point of how far would they go to sacrifice their life. Even though the story line had an identity crisis, it does manage to touch on some of humanities deepest queries. What it lacks in entertainment value, it does offer in engaging discussion points. Among the performances, Ben Kingsley does a great job as always with what he had in a small role. Matthew Goode is creepy good as always. I love Ryan Reynolds, I like the guy as an actor, and even though he’s made some poor career choices (what is with him failing in action movies) over the last few years, he always breathes a bit of life into the whole proceedings. But here, he’s totally autonomous as young Damian, and he hasn’t put an ounce of effort into copying Kingsley‘s traits for effect (that’s why Face/Off worked so well). Natalie Martinez is a complete miscast. Tarsem Singh isn’t the greatest director in the world, by a long-shot, but his previous films have shown us that he is a visionary. The Cell was a load of dumb ideas, but when we went into the mind of the killer, it was gloriously awesome. The Fall is his masterpiece, beautiful, subliminal, but a little slow on pace. The Immortals was a horrid affair, but it’s set design was beautiful. Mirror Mirror was enjoyable. But its clearly obvious to see Singh struggling with the same multi-personality crisis of his central characters. It starts off as a contemplative quest then moves to family drama then becomes a Bourne-like action adventure. Then it tries to go back and forth between each genre, but is unsuccessful in delivering a satisfactory result. Each of the potential story lines has appealing elements that would have made for fascinating considerations, but as a mix they develop a schizophrenic experience.
On the whole, Self/Less‘is an disappointing experience! Despite the presence of stars and all the elements for a great sci-fi thriller, the film proves to be a dud.
Overall Rating: 4.3