Focus Features/Gramercy Pictures
Directed by Tarsem Singh
Produced by Ram Bergman/Peter Schlessel/James D. Stern
Written by David Pastor/Alex Pastor
Generally when I go to the movies I plan it out what I’m going to see the day before. My wife and I usually go on a Tuesday because it’s Bargain Day at our favorite film emporium and we get away with paying $7. We also make a shopping/errand day out of it, treating ourselves to a bit of fun after taking care of business. But this Tuesday we didn’t plan on seeing anything as there was nothing in the theater either of us particularly cared to see (and “Ant-Man” doesn’t come out until Friday, dammit) so we were just going to call it an early day and head on home.
That’s before a series of truly torrential thunderstorms began coming down. We were in Long Island, a good 30 miles or so from our house and I didn’t feel like driving all the way back to Brooklyn in a thunderstorm so Patricia and I said “what the hell” and elected to kill a couple of hours going to see SELF/LESS. Neither one of us had heard much good about it but we figured; “How bad could it be?”
I shoulda took my chances with the thunderstorm.
Billionaire real estate titan Damian Hayes (Ben Kingsley) is dying from cancer. He leaves behind immense wealth and a broken relationship with his only child, his daughter Claire (Michelle Dockery). As he approaches death the only thing he truly wants is more time to heal the wound between him and Claire. Salvation arrives in the form of the mysterious Professor Albright (Matthew Goode) who claims that through a process he calls “shedding” he can place Damien’s consciousness into a young, healthy body that he says he’s grown in his laboratory.
Damien is skeptical. He didn’t get to be a billionaire by letting people make a fool out of him, after all. But after a trip to Albright’s lab and seeing the multiple bodies he’s grown, “vessels waiting to be filled” as Albright phrases it, he’s ready to sign on the dotted line. And pretty soon he wakes up in a fine, firm new body with a new name: Edward Mark Hale (Ryan Reynolds)
Damien/Edward moves to New Orleans, makes a new friend, Anton (Derek Luke) and pretty soon he’s playing pickup games of basketball, jet skiing, clubbing, partying like a rock star and banging supermodels. Life is pretty sweet until the visions start. Visions of a wife and child. Of a house and a life that is not his. Could it be that he’s remembering the life of Edward Hale? Damien sets out to find if the visions have any truth behind them and in the process finds out that Professor Albright and his “shedding” process is far more frightening than he was led to believe.
Now, by the time I got to this part of the movie I was 75% convinced that I was watching an uncredited remake of “Seconds” the classic John Frankenheimer directed suspense thriller which stars Rock Hudson in what many (including me) think is the finest dramatic work he’s ever done on film. In “Seconds” a middle-aged business man fed up and unhappy with his life (John Randolph) gets a chance to live a new life in a new body thanks to a mysterious organization run by an equally mysterious Old Man played by Will Geer. Randolph wakes up in Rock Hudson’s body and I will say no more about “Seconds” other than if you have not seen it, then consider it your homework assignment for the weekend to do so.
So the first 20 minutes or so of SELF/LESS point in that direction and actually isn’t bad at all. It’s once Ryan Reynolds takes over that the movie winds down, replacing what started out as a story about dealing with mortality with a By The Numbers action plot. Once Damien starts remembering Hale’s life and gets himself involved with Hale’s wife (Natalie Martinez) and child (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) Albright marks them all for death and they have to take it on the lam.
Y’know, even if director Tarsem Singh had indulged his extraordinary talent for eye-popping visuals, cinematography and costuming then we would at least have a movie worth looking at. Movies of his such as “The Fall” “The Cell” and “Immortals” are dazzling visual feasts if nothing else. I myself don’t understand the point of hiring a director who is renowned for his visual style and then have him not use that visual style to punch up such a plodding, dull story.
Or maybe Tarsem wanted to show he could direct a B-level actioner like everybody else without falling back on the visuals. Bad choice. I will say that there are a couple of hand-to-hand fight scenes and gun battles that he directs with snap, crackle and pop. But then again, there are half a dozen other action directors that could have done those scenes with just as much skill and energy.
Ryan Reynolds gives it his all here and I appreciate that he does his job to the best of his ability. He’s not phoning in his performance here and while he can’t carry a whole movie on his back, it’s not for lack of trying. Bradley Cooper, Chris Evans or Chris Pratt would have stuck this movie in their back pocket and walked away with it but Ryan ain’t them. But the fault of the movie doesn’t fall on him or any the supporting cast. Tarsem and his writers David and Alex Pastor iceberged this particular Titanic
Bottom line is this: wait for it to show up on Netflix if you’re at all interested in seeing it. An intriguing premise with talented actors and a phenomenal director is completely wasted and thrown away for the sake of a few car crashes, explosions and fights. What a shame.