REVIEW – Self/less (2015)

A dying real estate mogul transfers his consciousness into a healthy
young body, but soon finds that neither the procedure nor the company
that performed it are quite what they seem.

Directed by Tarsem Singh
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Ben Kingsley, Natalie Martinez 

First it was 8:00, then it was 7:45, then it was 7:50.

Those of you with a keen eye (or find themselves easily bored) will already know what I’m talking about if you’ve already seen Self/less (the completionist (sic) in me really wants to capitalise that ‘l’). Continuity should be something that goes unnoticed. You can even get away with these kinds of errors, assuming your audience is more involved. Yes, hmm, well…

The fact that I spotted the time on Ryan Reynolds’ wristwatch jump forward and backward twice in one scene says less about me, I would hope, and more about the film. The question should really be why I would be bothered by/have the inclination to/find myself at such a loose end that I would discover this error? Just how disengaged does an audience member have to be for this to happen?

Well, about as disengaged as I was, it would seem, and therefore we should ask why I was picking holes in the production instead of reveling in its developing plot. It says ‘Thriller’ on the press blurb. Not quite edge of the seat enough then, to warrant that rather lofty, albeit perfectly achievable accolade.

In the bastion of respectable sci-fi thrillers, there are many places your project can land. Self/less unfortunately seems to have pulled up a lay-z-boy next to Johnny Depp’s ‘Transcendence’ in the ‘nice idea, but needs work and a tad more thought’ department. I’ve said on many occasions that this stuff needs to be original (tick), scientifically sound (lol) and philosophically intriguing (nope) for its core demographic to clutch it to its somewhat ample, anorak covered bosom.

But after a sound opening that had Ben Kingsley riddled with a cancer that was about to kill him off within the next few months, we skipped the light fantastic to ‘shedding’. This was allegedly a new process by which the consciousness of an old crusty bugger like Mr Kingsley gets, with the help of some spinning lights and Matthew Goode’s scientific jiggery-pokery, the opportunity to be implanted into the head of younger model, unburdened with the vagaries of decrepitude and/or diseases that might end their life prematurely. As long as you keep taking the pills after the procedure, everything will be fine, apparently.

So as well as being pitched as a thriller, this was also described in certain quarters as ‘sci-fi’. This was in no doubt due to the nonsensical premise and the scientific overtones. What we actually ended up with was something a little too close to a love story than felt fair. To tell you why would ruin the plot, so I’m not going to, but let’s just say there is much less to this sci-fi thriller than you would at first imagine. It becomes embroiled in questions of morality that it never really gives a satisfactory explanation or answer to and fails to really to convince or engage the admittedly precise and picky target audience sufficiently.

When Kinglsey morphed into Reynolds, the goal and the argument were both clear. Extending the life of those brilliant individuals in order for them to remain brilliant for a good deal longer, seemed to make sense. And at this point, the setup for the morality tale that was about to take over became even more relevant. In the immortal words of Jeff Goldblum, “just because you could, doesn’t mean you should.” And just like those scientists at Jurassic Park, perhaps a little thought should have gone into not only the act of extending the lives featured here, but also the choice to commit it to film for us to snootily have a poke and prod at its shortcomings.

Not a travesty at all, with decent and honest performances from Reynolds (good), Kingsley (good) and Martinez (great) but I would like to have seen more of Matthew Goode, who continues to impress and is as magnetic as anyone here. It doesn’t do the subject matter justice and if you’ve come for the science you’d be as well not to bother, as there will be little here to thrill you, sci-fi or otherwise. As I said, a nice idea, but I do wish Singh had just decided what kind of film he wanted to make before he started.

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