Lesson: People are friends, not science experiments.
Remember that time I said I was going to review shark movies all month? Yeah, well, I lied, because the new Tarsem Singh movie came out and my loyalties split. Repeat readers know that my favorite movie of all time is The Fall, a Singh movie. His other endeavors are also enjoyable, from the surrealist scifi of The Cell to the vaguely feminist take on Snow White that was Mirror Mirror.
In fact, I think my expectations may have been skewed slightly going into this film, and therefore I was was also slightly disappointed. I anticipated a gorgeous, smooth, surreal science fiction movie, but what I got was an abruptly cut action film with scifi underpinnings.
Damien Hale (Sir Ben Kingsely) is a gifted…realtor, I think? Unfortunately, at the young age of 68, he’s also dying of cancer. Fortunately, there’s a new secret science called ‘Shedding’ that essentially transplants your consciousness into a new body. Think Avatar meets Dollhouse. Feeling he hasn’t much else left as an option having estranged his only child, Claire, Hale agrees to the procedure, which of course means starting over. He’s transplanted into Ryan Reynolds and becomes Eddie, with a fresh new apartment in New Orleans and a guide to being 30 again, Anton.
Cinematically speaking, this film’s style was a drastic departure for Singh. As I mentioned, instead of sweeping transitions and effortlessly fluid camera work, Self/Less is cut choppily and with great abruptness. There are very intentionally rhythmic sections, paired with a great soundtrack, that definitely contribute to the film’s action sequences. Arguably, Singh is also known for opulent sets and costuming, so this film also felt extremely played down as most everyone runs around in collared shirts and slacks. Again, there was a hint of the old Singh, most notably in Hale’s original apartment. I heard the audience around me ooh and aah. For me, this opulence only adds to the surrealism of scifi as a genre in the same way that extreme cleanliness and sterility can create a more believable environment.
Cinematography aside, while I was never bored during Self/Less, it was what I would consider half-baked. Not quite all the way developed, and it suffered a little because of it. For one, I frequently forgot Ryan Reynolds was supposed to be possessed by Ben Kingsely. Two, most of the characters acted unrealistically to their environments, which unfortunately contributed negatively to the scifi side of things but positively to the action half. I think that in scifi you must be surreal enough to force surrender of audience disbelief or real enough to be engaging and not distracting. Self/Less sat somewhere in the middle.
It did have one of the best car action sequences I’ve ever seen, where an SUV backs up, catches a sedan on the trailer hitch and promptly slingshots it into the other car. Actually, speaking of action sequences, I appreciated how insular the movie felt. There were not very many innocent casualties – there’s even a scene with a scientist with his hands up shouting, “I’m just a technician!” and is spared. However, that being said, it’s hard to get wrapped up in the grand scale of the villainous scheming because it was so insular.
So basically, Self/Less balances precariously on the edge of two worlds and manages to not be anything, but also suffers because of it. It’s a decent scifi thriller but not spectacular. I would recommend seeing it if you’re in the market to see something that isn’t Minions. The twist(s) are better in the second half. In fact, the second half is just better in general.
Questions? Hate mail? Suggestions? Love letters?