Take a Drink: for every Bad Guy cliche.
Do a Shot: for every plot beat you successfully predict.
Chug Your Beer: for the most ridiculous “Using Google to solve the Mystery” scene ever put to film.
Take a Drink: whenever the movie takes the boring route when given the opportunity to do something interesting.
Do a Shot: whenever Ryan Reynolds does something hot, because COME ON it’s still Ryan Reynolds.
By: Hawk Ripjaw (Four Beers) –
Damian (Ben Kingsley) is an insanely rich nonspecific businessman. His penthouse is almost literally made of gold and he has a marble fountain right in his office. Unfortunately, his daughter hates him and he’s dying of cancer, prompting him to strongly consider turning to mysterious and totally not evil Dr. Albright (Matthew Goode). With a name like that and the actor playing him, he HAS to be one of the good guys! Albright’s procedure involves transferring Damian’s mind into the body of a much younger person, naturally grown in the laboratory, giving him a new lease on life. The new body in this case is Ryan Reynolds, which should have set off some alarm bells right away because anyone who’s seen Ryan Reynolds knows you can’t just grow that shit in a lab.
Now that Damian has Ryan Reynolds’ body, literally everybody wants to bang him. He also has a killer house, a fast car, and can start up a party montage with a snap of his fingers. Unfortunately, New Damian immediately starts having odd hallucinations and a swimmy head feeling, and it isn’t even 5 o’clock yet. Dr. Albright tells him that these are merely side effects of the procedure and gives him some red pills (ironically) to take daily to suppress the hallucinations and continue his kickass life of chilling high above the New Orleans poverty line and sticking his dick in everything that moves. Instead, he goes searching for answers and learns that his fancy new “empty vessel” is simply a pre-owned body, and those hallucinations are memories. Nobody is surprised except for Damian, who is also aghast that another man has touched his penis.
Almost immediately, Albright’s security team appears out of nowhere attempting to fill Damian’s new body with some brand-new bullet holes. Lucky for Damian, his new body used to be military so he can kick anyone’s ass. That he does, for the next hour or so, while any semblance of an actual compelling plot gets kicked right out the door.
Uhh… It was better than Immortals?
And even though action has no business being in this movie, it actually was relatively well-shot–by which I mean Tarsem didn’t act like a fucking lunatic with his camera. It wasn’t really even very inventive action but it got the job done, like a free porn sample.
Studio Executive 1: “We got this story, man. It’s about a guy who gets his consciousness transplanted into a younger body so he doesn’t have to die.”
Studio Executive 2: “Wow, that sounds really cool bro. We should think of a compelling way to drive that story.”
Studio Executive 1: “How about an in-depth commentary on consciousness and the soul?”
Studio Executive 2: “Fuck that. Just have a bunch of shootouts.”
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a man gifted in the art of killing others goes on the run, using his abilities to save a young woman from an evil corporation.
It takes literally—literally!!—seconds after Damian discovers his new body has a past life for the movie to explode into action. It’s almost as though the crew working on the first half of the movie tags out for a whole new crew once this happens, because while the first part of the movie seems to be gravitating towards something with some gravitas, the rest of the film switches into a chase thriller with serious Bourne envy. You see, even though the only thing Old Damian learned how to do is make sick real estate deals and be a shitty father, New Damian in his past life was a soldier who knew how to break someone’s arm in three places.
Part of making a compelling arc about an older man’s consciousness transplanted into a younger man’s body would be to have the character of the younger man sort of act like he’s got, you know, the same fucking brain. And yet while Old Damian is a cutthroat businessman who, in the opening scene, ruins a young man’s career for making a real estate deal, New Damian is a nice dude who cares so much about other people he spends an entire movie murdering at least a dozen bad guys and throwing his life away just to save a lady and her kid. Indeed, Ryan Reynolds doesn’t even attempt to play an old New Yorker trapped in a young Midwestern family man (including the outrageous New York accent Kingsley affects in his scenes).
There’s a lot of shit that doesn’t make sense here. During that big shootout in the middle of the movie, the leader of the bad guys frantically says that Damian can’t be harmed because Albright wants him alive. Moments later, Damian tackles him through a railing and the guy goes apeshit and has his flamethrower crony start torching the house. Yes, flamethrowers factor into this movie, and more than once. The whole interplay between New Damian and his new body’s wife and kid is clumsily handled to the point of hilarity; Damian teaches the daughter how to swim after seeing his new body promise her to do so in an old birthday video. The wife comes dangerously close to banging him at least a couple of times as well, just a scene or two after finding out the truth. There’s even more that goes in the exact opposite direction that it should, and the quaint plot twists are handled with all of the finesse of writing it down on a piece of paper and holding it up to the camera.
Tarsem Singh is the director of movies such as The Cell, The Fall, and Immortals. All issues those films have aside, they are packed with sumptuous, creepy costume and production design that looks like a serial killer got into the water colors while he was Tasting the Rainbow. Self/Less in no way, shape, or form resembles a Tarsem film, and nearly every facet of its production is incredibly workmanlike. This is by far one of the most generic-looking films to come out in months and, save for the brief glimpse of Old Damian’s Scrooge McDuck penthouse (which is actually just the inside of Donald Trump’s penthouse), there isn’t an iota of that beautiful production design that has been the director’s trademark. There is hardly a memorable frame here at all, and that might be the most frustrating thing about it.
Self/Less is not a bad product. It’s just boring, unremarkable and frustrating, much like most of my adult life. It’s not what it should have been, and what it is is serviceable at best, also much like most of my adult life. There are issues with the story and script and the entire product is maddeningly generic. It’s not the worst movie of the year, and you may not feel like you’ve lost time out of your life if you happen to catch a rental in a few months.
But on the other hand, if Tarsem Singh doesn’t give a shit, there’s no reason for you to, either.