Immortality seems to be the simplest motivator for rich people in sci-fi movies and no matter how many times it pops up, we always seem to find the idea of living forever fascinating. Kind of like cloning dinosaurs; we know it’s a doomed notion but were still willing to see the same idea get revamped and rolled out again even after 20 years (Jurassic World’s success is proof of that). So when the odd pairing of Ben Kingsley and Ryan Reynolds came together for “Self/less,” I wasn’t really sure what to expect but the concept (as old as it is) still interested me enough to give it a look see. Wealthy billionaire Damian (Ben Kingsley) is dying and all the money in the world cannot save him, until a strange process called “shedding” is offered to him by Dr. Albright (Matthew Goode).
Albright offers the visionaries of today to live longer in order to complete their life long goals for tomorrow by giving dying patients a new body to inhabit. Once Damian gets his new body (Ryan Reynolds), he starts to have some fun being young again until he learns that this body isn’t as “homemade” as he thought and the company he trusted is hiding dangerous secrets from him. It’s odd that Kingsley’s character is the focus and yet we actually see very little of him since the transition from Kingsley to Reynolds happens relatively quickly. The film starts off relatively slowly despite the quick body fix; it takes some time to get off the ground and the obligatory cliché montage of Reynolds having young sex and wild fun is predictably unengaging.
But it’s when the secret of where these amazing new bodies come is revealed that things start to get interesting. Sure, we obviously know science like this always comes complete with a noose around your neck once the hard truth is revealed. What’s interesting is the gear shifts this movie makes by giving Reynolds/Kingsley an almost “Bourne Identity” angle that allows for some surprisingly pleasing action scenes. It’s an unusual situation to have a man in another man’s body and trying to watch him save himself and yet feeling like the villain by taking this young man’s life away from his family; you hate him for doing this to this family but you also understand his desire to keep on living.
Kingsley sounded strange trying to cover up his accent but performance wise, can’t say much because he’s not on for very long. Reynolds proves quite capable of being the stern, serious bad ass and it’s a welcome shift from his usual witty one liners like in “Blade Trinity” or “X-men Origins: Wolverine.” The story, much Matthew Goode are pretty obvious about the whole “shady things are going to happen” thing. There’s being blunt and then there’s being so obvious that you can smell “bad news” like a gas leak. There are a few surprises here and there; mixed in with a well handled “final dilemma” once you find out the secret of Kingsley/Reynolds “medications,” but the movie mostly has its concept to rely on rather than a strong cast or memorable script.
Sometimes I felt “Self/less” was a film that came out 10 years too late, like this would have felt more in place if it came much earlier rather than now; because it kind of looks a bit too on the nose/safe by today’s standards. That’s not to say there’s nothing good here, it’s just….safe, this is a safe movie that barely tries to scratch the surface and achieve some truly unique ideas. “Self/less” is state of the art science fiction in an age of cinematic magic that makes it look dated. This is an average film with an idea better than the actual presentation, it could have been really neat, thought provoking and clever but it just settled for being meh. “Self/less” is a decent film, Reynolds owns the movie and there are some nice surprises and shoot outs that kept things interesting…I just wish it would have been MORE interesting all around.