Review: Self/less Is Rather Lifeless
Director: Tarsem Singh
Screenwriter: David Pastor and Alex Pastor
Principal Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Natalie Martinez, Matthew Goode, Ben Kingsley, Victor Garber, Derek Like, and Jaynee Lynne Kinchen
Summary: An extremely wealthy man, dying of cancer, undergoes a radical medical procedure that transfers his consciousness into the body of a healthy young man. But all is not what it seems when he starts to uncover the mystery of the body’s origin and the organization that will kill to protect its cause.
I’m trying to go out of my way to know as little as possible about movies when I go into screenings. I’ve found that trailers tend to give away far too much and, if I can, I like to avoid them. There are things I miss out on such as when movies have great marketing but, in general, trailers exist to generate hype and the less expectations I have about a movie the better. Self/less is one of those movies where I knew nothing about it going in.
Self/less is one of those movies that thinks it’s playing around with some big ideas, and in some ways it is, but it’s boggled down by poor pacing and pointless action scenes.
There are very few things in the world that are more irritating than someone who thinks they are smart with profound and interesting things to say when in reality they’re just stupid. One of the better known summer blockbusters would be Prometheus and Transcendence with Oblivion nearly crossing the line many times. I feel like I can add Self/less to that list of movies that think they are smart and aren’t. There is the potential for a really great debate here when it comes to extending life and humanity, but the movie decides that it doesn’t really need to explore that too much and instead has Ben Kingsley as Ryan Reynolds punch more people. The truly fantastic Ex Machina from earlier this year did this and Advantageous (one of the Sundance movies that got lost in the crowd when I became overwhelmed) also explored this theme as well. However, while both of those movies were either smart (Ex Machina) or visually stimulating (Advantageous), Self/less doesn’t have anything to say.
There is supposed to be a central conflict within Reynold’s Damian but there isn’t anything to really hold onto. Damian’s adult daughter shows up at the beginning and at the end. The movie hints that she’s supposed to be important to Damian but he does nothing to show her that. Instead he latches onto Madeline (Natalie Martinez) and her daughter Anna (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) for plot reasons that make very little sense, even if you don’t think about it. I’m willing to overlook bad science in the name of entertainment (I said this back in my Interstellar review) but Self/less just tries so hard to prove how amazing it is that I can’t take it seriously. There is also the fact that the entire production is very predictable and I was able to call the entire movie five minutes in.
If there is one thing that the movie has going for it is that they cast the fantastically skeevy looking Matthew Goode as their villain. I haven’t been able to look at Goode the same since I saw Stoker a number of years ago. He plays an excellent snake in the grass and Self/less is a much better movie whenever he appears on screen. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t seem to realize this and doesn’t have Goode around nearly as much as they should. Instead they keep trying to convince us that the feelings Damian has for Madeline and Anna are genuine, when in reality they come across as “insincere” at good moments and “creepy” at bad ones.
Self/less more than likely started out as a smart science fiction movie, but instead of embracing the script decided there needed to be more fight scenes, guns and broken family dynamics. It isn’t even bad enough for me to get angry about them squandering an interesting idea because it is just so lifeless.