After this year’s superior sci-fi releases “Predestination,” “Ex Machina” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” used strange settings to tell stories about human concerns, “Self/less,” uses its strange setting for not much at all.
“Self/less” is the fifth feature film from former music video and commercial director Tarsem Singh (“The Cell,” “Immortals”).
His movies generally receive the same reviews: impressive visuals, pathetic storytelling. “Self/less” does not deviate. The movie might have been better titled “Less,” with no “Self” involved.
Ben Kingsley stars as Damian Hale, a seasoned, wealthy entrepreneur who crushes the spirits of young, conniving upstarts over breakfast, but there’s trouble in paradise: Damian is dying of cancer.
He is approached by the mysterious Phoenix Biogenic institute, headed by a man called Albright (Matthew Goode), and offered a solution. For a price, he can shed his old identity and start over in a fresh, new body.
No doubt cast for his looks, Ryan Reynolds plays the new body, which he previously provided for Jason Bateman in “The Change-Up.”
Damian’s new form works great, and he begins to enjoy basketball and sex, but must take pills, provided by Albright, to stop unpleasant side effects – flashbacks – from happening.
Before long, one of his flashbacks reveals a landmark, and he begins investigating. He meets Madeline (Natalie Martinez) and learns troubling things about the origins of his new chassis.
The plot is lifted largely, and without credit, from John Frankenheimer’s bizarre cult film “Seconds,” released in 1966.
Like that film, “Self/less” could have raised interesting questions about identity or wealth or youth. Or it could have at least commented upon the Frankenstein or Faust myths.
But instead it turns into a chase movie, complete with car crashes, about catching the bad guy. And that would have been fine – if it at least tried, and if it weren’t already like a thousand other “catching the bad guy” movies.
Singh’s celebrated visuals don’t even raise the movie out of the mundane; they’re a far cry from the giant mountains and colorful dreamscapes of his previous films.
The most unique touches are long, plastic-lined tunnels that make up the villainous lair. And even these are not used for anything more than a place for Damian to play hide and seek with the baddies.
Those enemies may have not been able to create a perfectly empty vessel, but with this movie, Singh has had no such trouble.
One and a half stars
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Natalie Martinez, Matthew Goode, Ben Kingsley
Written by: David Pastor, Alex Pastor
Directed by: Tarsem Singh
Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes