The pantheon of movies that feature a slash in the title isn’t all that big—there’s Face/Off and Crazy/Beautiful, and that’s pretty much it. Still, that (admittedly pointless) use of punctuation is one of the few things going for Self/Less, a tepid sci-fi thriller that takes an interesting premise and sacrifices ideas for the sake of logically challenged action beats.
Ben Kingsley plays Damian, a ruthless New York real estate tycoon who lives in an opulent gold-leafed penthouse. He has the world at his feet, but he’s still dying of terminal cancer—and with only six months to live, he’s willing to try something drastic. For the low price of a quarter-billion dollars, the brilliant Dr. Albright (Matthew Goode) will take his consciousness and transfer it into a brand new lab-grown body that looks an awful lot like Ryan Reynolds. Though he has to sever ties with business partner Martin (Victor Garber) and estranged daughter Claire (Michelle Dockery), the newly sorta-immortal Damian enjoys his youthful escapades in New Orleans, playing street basketball and bedding lovely ladies in a montage.
But before too long, things start to unravel. Reynolds-Damian starts to see visions of war and a mysterious family he doesn’t recognize, and Albright might not be entirely truthful with him. Once he hooks up with Madeline (Natalie Martinez), it’s a race to see whether he can get the answers he needs before a mysterious cabal kills everybody.
Self/Less suggests plenty of questions about the nature of identity, the morality of scientific exploration, and the price of aging. But the script, penned by brothers David and Alex Pastor, doesn’t craft characters complicated enough to engage in those concepts. Instead, once the non-twists of Self/Less start unraveling, the film becomes little more than a series of chases and super-boneheaded plot holes. For example, just how secret is “shedding,” which is what the consciousness transference process is called? Albright seems to be desperate to keep everything underground, and yet characters easily read about details of it on Wikipedia?
Though Reynolds seems a little lost and Kingsley is hamstrung by his goofy New Yawk accent during his brief tenure in the picture, the rest of the cast helps hold down the edges of Self/Less’ withering circus tent. Goode is particularly effective as the sinister scientist, and though she’s barely in the film, Dockery adds some much-needed gentle grace to an otherwise leaden series of plot points. Self/Less’ greatest crime is that it’s not enough of anything: Not brainy enough to party with the theories about consciousness that Ex-Machina delivered earlier this year, nor is it over-the-top enough to compete with the campy goofballery of something like Limitless. Self/Less should have been so much more, especially considering it was in the hands of director Tarsem Singh, who has created wildly imaginative worlds in films like The Cell and The Fall. Those particular films had sumptuous visuals that more than made up for a supreme lack of storytelling. With a story this murky and characters this broad, the least Tarsem could do is give us something bonkers to look at. C–