IR Film Review: Supernerd Sheds his Preconceptions About Director Tarsem Singh With ‘Self/Less’

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by: S. Scott Stanikmas

Whether we want to admit it or not, we all fear dying. Leaving a legacy unfulfilled or just passing from this realm before we feel it’s our time to go, death is on the back of everyone’s mind. But in Self/Less director Tarsem Singh and screenwriters David and Alex Pastor show us a world where something like cancer isn’t the final say…as long as you have the money and are willing to turn a blind eye to some pretty horrible things.

The film gets things rolling rather quickly, introducing us seeing an aging Damian Hale (Ben Kingsley) already contemplating “shedding” or moving his consciousness from his dying body to a healthy one that was (supposedly) grown and selected specially for him by scientific genius Professor Albright (Matthew Goode). Realizing he may not have much time left to decide, Hale goes through with the procedure.

All goes well and now the mind of Damian Hale inhabits a brand new, young body (Ryan Reynolds). With money that he set aside and a new identity, Damian begins to truly enjoy life – going out to clubs, driving fast cars and bedding many beautiful women. But this new body comes with a cost. There are hallucinations that he can’t control. Albright dismisses them as growing pains, an adjustment period. He gives Hale some pills to help control the symptoms, but he can’t shake the feeling that this is something more.

Soon he’s on a search for the images in his waking dreams and what he finds disturbs him. The “new body” that he inhabits was an actual person – complete with a life and family. Hale soon learns that the pills are the only thing keeping him in control and from the old body’s original mind from resurfacing and erasing him completely.

Now Hale is on the run from the organization that helped put him where he is. Because if they can’t trust him to keep their secret, they’ll make sure it dies with him.

Self/Less has been compared quite a bit to the 1966 John Frankenheimer cult classic Seconds. In that film, Rock Hudson plays a banker who enlists the help of a shadowy organization to help him fake his death and give him a new identity (as well as face and body). While Seconds is more of a psychological potboiler, Self/Less suffers from a crisis of identity, not really knowing what kind of film it wants to be before finally settling on being a mash-up of a couple different genres.

Much like with the slash in the title, you could almost cut the film in half and get two completely different movies. It starts off as a nice science-fiction morality tale. It almost seems like the film is looking at you, saying “Be careful what you wish for – just wait and see what happens to THIS guy.” While the second half is more of a traditional action film, replete with car chases, shoot-outs and a LOT of twists and turns to keep you on your toes.

It’s not that I thought the film was bad, but the change in tone soured me on the film a bit. I would have been perfectly happy without the stock action bits that seem like they were thrown in there to make this seem like more of a blockbuster than it was.

If Tarsem Singh’s name wasn’t in the credits, you’d never know it was one of his films. With a resume that includes such visually stunning films as The Cell, Immortals and Mirror, Mirror, Singh went a more traditional route with Self/Less. It was definitely the smarter way to go, as the director’s usual opulent vision would have seemed very out of place here. I always enjoy seeing a filmmaker trying something outside of their usual wheelhouse and Singh brought his A-game with this attempt.

Everyone is looking towards next year’s Deadpool as the resurgence of Ryan Ryenolds. I say it got started right here. Reynolds has had a pretty rough time of it lately, with people seemingly only able to remember his turns in shoddy comic book movies like Green Lantern and R.I.P.D. But he’s had a decent year, starring in smaller independent films like The Captive, The Voices and Woman in Gold, getting his confidence back on track. Self/Less was a step in the right direction for the Charismatic actor before he shows up on the big screen as Marvel’s Merc With A Mouth next Valentine’s Day.

Self/Less wasn’t without its many flaws, but it was a fun diversion. I would have preferred if the film took a little darker route (much like Seconds did in its closing moments) or at least gave us a more ambiguous finale, instead of wrapping everything up in a neat, little bow. But it’s still an interesting concept with some legs – it’s just too bad those legs give out about twenty minutes before the film ends.

GRADE: B-

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