[Screen It]

"SELF/LESS"
(2015) (Ryan Reynolds, Natalie Martinez) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-Fi: An ultra-wealthy but terminally ill businessman begins experiencing weird flashbacks when his consciousness is transferred into a younger body in order to keep him alive.
PLOT:
Damian Hale (BEN KINGSLEY) is a real estate investor and developer who's built much of New York City with his business partner, Martin O'Neil (VICTOR GARBER). But things aren't all great for the billionaire. Not only is he estranged from his activist daughter, Claire (MICHELLE DOCKERY), but he's also facing his mortality due to rapidly advancing cancer. Having anonymously received a business card about a process known as "shedding," Damian visits Dr. Albright (MATTHEW GOODE) who explains the secretive and very expensive procedure he's created. Simply put, Damian's consciousness will be transferred out of his illness-ravaged body into that of a younger man that's been "grown" in their lab. The only caveat is that the world must believe the old Damian has died, and the new version (RYAN REYNOLDS) must live out his life as an entirely different person.

After rehearsing that and going through physical therapy in order to learn how to control his new body, New Damian, a.k.a. Edward Kitner, has a grand time living it up in New Orleans with his new friend, Anton (DEREK LUKE). But he's having odd visions featuring a young woman and her child, something Albright states are simply hallucinations and can be controlled by taking a specially designed pill every day. Those visions continue, however, eventually becoming specific enough for New Damian to trace them to a house outside of St. Louis where he meets Madeline (NATALIE MARTINEZ), the woman from those visions, and her formerly sick, 6-year-old daughter, Anna (JAYNEE-LYNNE KINCHEN).

They're shocked to see him since to them he's Mark, the husband and father of their family who reportedly previously drowned in the past. When Anton and a number of henchmen show up at that house and try to control the situation, New Damian realizes something isn't right. After escaping from them, and figuring out he was transferred into someone else's body rather than a new, lab-grown one, he tries to figure out what to do, all while facing the need to protect Madeline and Anna whose lives are now also in danger.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Back in the mid 1980s installment of "Saturday Night Live," there was a skit where Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest appeared as various characters who'd exchange "Do You Know What I Hate?" stories. They'd start off innocently enough, but that would quickly grow in terms of exaggerated bad things, with each ending with the line, "I hate it when that happens."

All of us have felt that way about any number of things that happen in our lives (although usually not to the point of such outrageous extremes). For yours truly, though, I say it when I learn that some screenplay idea I've been working on is already in production by others who got to that idea first.

Such was the case with a script I started working on about having a human's consciousness transferred into a computer system, only to then learn that the Johnny Depp sci-fi thriller "Transcendence" was in the works. Not only did I get to say that old catchphrase upon my discovery of being beaten to the punch, but I also got to say it when those behind the film completely squandered the premise.

And now along comes a similar premise where the new landing spot for one's consciousness isn't in a bunch of hard-wired processors and such, but instead involves having one's mind and soul transferred into another human body. That's the idea behind "Self/less" where Ben Kingsley plays an ultra-wealthy real estate developer who's dying of cancer.

Having received an anonymous tip about a new and secretive procedure, he visits a researcher (Matthew Goode) who promises him he can extend his life by having his very being transferred into a younger, healthier body. When Damian comes out of the procedure, he finds himself looking like Ryan Reynolds, and initially enjoys the rediscovery of his youth, including that of partying with and bedding a great deal of young ladies.

But a series of distorted, flash visions eventually lead him to the suburbs of St. Louis where he discovers his new body wasn't created in a lab. Instead, it belonged to a man with a wife (Natalie Martinez) and young child (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) who believed he had previously drowned. To make matters worse, the mad scientist isn't happy about the patient's detective work and sends his goons to silence the matter. Talk about your "I hate it when that happens" scenarios.

Alas, and as was the case with the Depp flick, this one simply isn't that good. For starters, it's too easy to figure out the "big twist" discovery, with scribes David Pastor and Alex Pastor not doing enough to make that a surprise. To make matters worse, the action that follows, brought to us by director Tarsem Singh, isn't terribly exciting or engaging.

Yet, the film's worst sin is that I never bought into the notion that Ben Kingsley was inside Ryan Reynolds (and that's something I never imagined I'd put in writing). Granted, that's always been an issue with so-called body switching movies, but the best of the bunch manage to pull it off in a convincing fashion.

That's not the case here, despite the subsequent storyline allowing for a somewhat easy-out explanation of the previous man's consciousness taking over. Yes, some of that's there, but it doesn't develop until well after the fact that no one will buy into the prescribed notion that Sir Ben is lurking about somewhere inside the chiseled face and physique.

I don't know if Singh simply told Reynolds not to worry about it or if the younger performer wasn't able to act like him in a convincing fashion. Regardless of the cause, that lack of belief was a deal killer for me, and thus I didn't remotely care about the estranged relationship between Kingsley's character and that of his adult daughter (Michelle Dockery), or him having to choose which consciousness would ultimately inhabit the younger man's body.

You know what I hate? Watching movies where millions of dollars have been spent and the end product isn't remotely good, and knowing that said dollars could have instead been used toward bringing my story ideas to fruition. Yeah, I hate it when that happens. "Self/less" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed June 18, 2015 / Posted July 10, 2015


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