2015 / Director. Tarsem Singh.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Tarsem Singh is a visionary filmmaker whose body of work includes THE CELL, THE FALL, IMMORTALS and MIRROR MIRROR. He works within a dreamlike fantasy realm where nothing is what it seems and the visceral experience is often stronger than the narrative itself. I am naturally drawn to his style and I anticipate his films more than I probably should. His latest offering is SELF/LESS.
We are introduced to a billionaire real estate mogul played by Ben Kingsley who is gravely ill with only months to live. With certain loose ends and unfinished business in his life he turns to a radical and experimental medical program called “Shedding” and has his consciousness transported into a new and younger body. He wakes up looking like Ryan Reynolds and soon discovers the sinister secrets to the process and uncovers truths about the company in charge.
This is not a signature Tarsem Singh movie. It bares little of his style and is a completely lacklustre affair in comparison. The premise itself is derivative of Philip K Dick’s work and, in fact, plays out like a cross between TOTAL RECALL and PAYCHECK. Ryan Reynolds has been delivering a stack of exceptional (and weighty) performances lately, but this is one that he phoned in. He looks bored and you get the sense that he wasn't ‘feeling’ it. Ben Kingsley is quite good, although his appearance is reduced to an extended cameo.
In terms of the narrative, it is entirely unconvincing. The crux of the film is dependant on the believability of one character embodying another. Take a film like FACE/OFF for example. That film works solely due to the fact that John Travolta and Nicholas Cage channel each other’s persona. In SELF/LESS Ryan Reynolds plays Ryan Reynolds and there is absolutely no trace of Kingsley’s personality to be found. To expect the audience to buy the concept that Reynolds is Kingsley is a huge ask and the movie comes undone because of it.
The production design is uninspiring and the action sequences are lethargic. There is a thriller component to the film that does work at times, but is paced sporadically and offers too many moments for the viewer to disengage. Tarsem Singh is clearly the wrong director for this brand of bubblegum and I can only assume that he took on the project to challenge himself outside of the fantasy world that he knows best.
SELF/LESS is a run of the mill thriller exploiting a sci-fi sub-genre that’s already been flogged to death. It lacks substance, style and an overall focus. Very disappointing.