Self/less

Posted by Joel Copling on July 10, 2015


"Self/less" has a great kernel of an idea for approximately half an hour before taking the easy route and giving its audience a pretty standard chase movie with no stakes. That's a shame, too, because this really is, for a time, appealingly in the vein of Christopher Nolan or a more somber, less bombastic answer to 1997's "Face/Off" before losing its way completely and focusing on the lowest common denominator elements of its most rote thriller facet. In fact, the first half-hour is made downright wacky in, at least, an eccentric way courtesy of a strange performance by Ben Kingsley as Damian Hale, some sort of renowned businessman who is dying of cancer and doesn't want to suffer that pain.

But let's talk about this performance for a second. Kingsley is one of our greatest living actors--likely one of the greatest actors in general, living or dead--and here he gives perhaps the worst performance of his career, yet it still remains fascinating to watch. He only gets roughly 15 minutes of screentime before his version of Damian becomes the new and improved version (played by Ryan Reynolds), but it's the thing that stays in one's memory long after, even if for all the wrong reasons. It's enough to make one wish that Reynolds had kept the over-the-top New York accent that Kingsley hypnotically murders with every single line of dialogue that he is forced to utter, thanks to David and Alex Pastor's screenplay.

Anyway, he becomes the Reynolds version of himself through an obviously suspicious medical procedure called "shedding," even though that metaphor doesn't really work in this case. The equally suspicious overseer of the process, Dr. Albright (Matthew Goode, who at least is the right actor to play suspicious mustache-twirlers), assures him that death is only an irrelevant possibility but that the new Damian must take medication to stop the random images popping into his head. Of course, Nothing Is What It Seems with this procedure, and after learning that the donor body is not quite the genetic modification that Dr. Albright says it is, Damian must leap into action.

The result is downright alarming to watch in its total evasion of a thoughtful examination of the moral consequences of this procedure. Sure, the mother and daughter pair (Natalie Martinez and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen), with whom Damian teams up for reasons that will be plainly obvious the moment the flimsy "mystery" presents itself, is a sweet-enough one, especially the little one, but the new Damian is a blank slate. One almost wishes that he would have supernatural powers of an unknown origin, but that would be wishful thinking. It's just a routine series of dully staged action sequences in which director Tarsem Singh, usually one ripe for visual flair, clearly did not put much effort beyond general skill. "Self/less" is, indeed, without any identity of its own.

Film Information


Ryan Reynolds (New Damian), Natalie Martinez (Madeline), Matthew Goode (Albright), Victor Garber (Martin), Derek Luke (Anton), Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen (Anna), Ben Kingsley (Original Damian).

Directed by Tarsem Singh and written by David Pastor and Alex Pastor.

Rated PG-13 (violence, sexuality, language).

116 minutes.

Released on July 10, 2015.