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Self/Less ••

Selfless_posterStarring: Ryan Reynolds, Natalie Martinez, Matthew Goode
Director: Tarsem Singh
Screenplay: David Pastor, Àlex Pastor
Mystery/Sci-Fi/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 117 minutes
Release Date: July 10, 2015


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Scott, if anyone had told me Ryan Reynolds was Selfless I would have thought it was a joke.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

There’s a slash in the title, suggesting either great intrigue or great gimmickry. Let’s recap.

We’re introduced to Damian Hayes (Ben Kingsley) who is not just old, but near death. He is a very rich man and looks into a technology called “shedding.” His entire mind will be transferred into another body – a younger body that has been grown in a lab and looks a lot like Ryan Reynolds. The transfer goes well but the new Damien has to relearn how to walk and talk. And he has to take red pills to prevent rejection. “New” Damien is doing pretty well when he starts to have nightmares about an alternate life.

The new Damien Google-searches the images he’s seeing in his hallucinations and discovers that his dreams take place in Missouri. He heads to St. Louis, rents a car, and meanders his way into a woman’s home. He learns that his Ryan Reynolds-like body was once this woman’s husband. Meanwhile, the mastermind of the shedding company Albright (Matthew Goode), has sent his henchmen to follow Damien. They try to kill him and the woman, and so now Damien is on the run, trying to unveil the truth about shedding and his true identity.

Scott, this movie had great potential. We start off with an Academy Award winner in Ben Kingsley. He is quickly discarded for the more youthful and less talented Ryan Reynolds. We didn’t get enough time with Kingsley to really recognize him when he wakes up in a different body. And the Reynolds’ character very quickly goes from enjoying his young body to searching for the origins of his new body. Reynolds doesn’t really act like a man who woke up in another man’s body. He seems very motivated to reconcile the wrong that allowed him to “shed” his old body. The Kingsley character was a cut-throat, unflinching, even uncaring pragmatist. But the Reynolds character is the complete opposite. It doesn’t make sense.

You’re right, Greg. Kingsley’s character, Damian Hayes, isn’t on screen long enough for us to get to know him or really care about him. From what we do know, he shouldn’t react in some of the ways that the Ryan Reynolds version of him reacts. For one thing, Damian Hayes as Kingsley is very intelligent, yet he is easily duped by Albright and remains duped even after the physical transformation. Every human body has little marks and imperfections from everyday wear-and-tear. He should have noticed the obvious signs that his new Reynolds body is a “used” (or pre-owned) body.

Another problem with Self/Less is its lack of originality. The 1968 final episode of the original Star Trek series was called Turnabout Intruder, and it featured a similar body and identity switch. Conveniently, to justify any kind of story, Self/Less employs a transference process that is flawed, requiring the ingestion of a pill to completely eliminate the host’s prior identity. Of course this process has to go awry for us to have any kind of story, and the resolution of the conflict, with the Reynolds-Damien character getting the girl in the end, is highly predictable.

The villains in this story are pretty bland. There’s a Steve Jobs-type super genius who invented shedding and tries to control Damien with promises that the red pills will make him feel better. And there’s his new best friend Anton (Derek Luke) who alternately tries to help and then kill Damien. He’s the henchman to Albright’s mastermind.

For secondary characters there is the love interest Madeline (Natalie Martinez) who still loves her husband and is shocked to see his body return with another man at the helm. And also a little daughter Anna (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) who is the whole reason Ryan Reynolds original body owner gave his body to “science.” (It seems little Anna needed chemotherapy and original Ryan Reynolds sold his body to pay for it). She’s adorable and serves the purpose of being cute in the midst of all the craziness.

There isn’t much more to say, so let’s get right to the ratings. Self/Less employs a tired premise of body-switching that uses stock characters and situations that left me uninspired. The performances from the cast are fine but I sensed from the actors that they knew they were stuck in a B-movie. Pretty much everything we see in Self/Less is predictable and unimaginative, and really the only people who need to see this film are fans of Ryan Reynolds. Self/Less earns a measly 2 Reels out of 5.

The hero story fell flat to me because, as we’ve mentioned, the protagonist Damian appears to make choices that are inconsistent with his character after he undergoes his physical transformation. One could argue that he’s simply experiencing a moral transformation and has learned the importance of doing the right thing. That may be possible but the transformation doesn’t appear to have been triggered by anything and thus doesn’t ring true. I can only award Damian a paltry 2 Heroes out of 5.

As you note, Greg, the villain Albright is rather dull, and I sensed that Matthew Goode was chosen for this role only because of his English accent. Again, there are stock characters who help and hinder Damian but they’re all rather forgettable. Even the love interest and her cute kid failed to inspire much enthusiasm. The cast also is also saddled with a rating of 2 out of 5.

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Forgettable is the operative word here, Scott. The movie seemed to forget the main character’s true self and transformed into a martyr without visible cause. I also give Self/Less 2 out of 5 Reels.

Ryan Reynolds just can’t seem to catch a break. I think he’s tried to move away from his comedy roots into more dramatic roles, but he keeps ending up in these ‘B’ movies. His work in the earlier film Woman in Gold opposite Helen Mirren was very good. But the movie attracted little attention against the summertime popcorn movies. As you note, Scott, Damien’s transformation is unbelievable and so I can give Damien only 1 Hero out of 5.

And the supporting cast is lackluster. We see the typical Mastermind/Henchman villain structure and the girlfriend and daughter complete a familial unit. The supporting cast gets just 2 out of 5 Cast points.

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