“Self/Less” is a film that explores the themes of family, loss, self-sacrifice and the inherent awesomeness of flamethrowers.
When the film begins, we are introduced to Ben Kingsley’s Damien, a self-made real estate tycoon who is dying of cancer. But just because he has only months to live, that is no reason to feel down, because Damien has found a company that can help him in the best way possible: In exchange for $100 million, they’re going to shove his soul into Ryan Reynolds.
So, with the help of the company (named Phoenix), Damien fakes his death and is transported to a quasi-medical facility equipped with a giant Freaky Friday Machine capable of pulling Damien’s essence out of his old, dying body and inserting it into Reynolds’ younger, fitter, non-cancer-having body.
But, much like the old proverb about beer, apparently you do not buy a body — you only rent it. And it turns out that these new bodies don’t really want to have someone else’s soul shoehorned into their brains. To combat what Damien is told are hallucinations brought on by the body rejecting the procedure, Damien is given a steady supply of little red pills that he has to take daily to keep himself in his new digs.
Pills in hand, Damien is given a new name, back story and an apartment in New Orleans. From there, he picks up casual sex as a hobby and basically begins to enjoy the life of a young Ryan Reynolds in the big city. Eventually, however, there comes a night when he misses one of his pills and is beset upon by another hallucination. Not choosing to take Phoenix at its word, he begins researching the things he saw online and finds that the landmarks lead him to a real place in St. Louis. It is when he travels there that he uncovers the true origin of his new body and learns the secret that Phoenix would rather nobody know. If you have seen even one trailer for the film, you already know what that secret is, and even if you have not, it is probably a secret that you have sussed out for yourself in the time it has taken to read this sentence.
For most of its run time, “Self/Less” is a convoluted action flick posing as a psychological thriller. It is plagued with plot holes, well-timed coincidences, surprisingly specific and helpful flashbacks, and both of the film’s main bad guys are, at various points, dispatched by conveniently placed flamethrowers, which seem like they should be much harder to come by than the film would have you believe.
The premise is silly, the ending creates more questions than it answers, and the whole thing just feels cheap and completely lacking in any kind of nuance.
And that is really the biggest problem that plagues “Self/Less.” It is a film that is utterly devoid of subtlety. Characters are the most basic archetypes available. There is a lot of body-swapping going on, so characters are all given overblown, extremely specific personal tics to help drive home the point of who is who. Reynolds does his game best to make the story worth watching, but the way in which the movie beats you over the head with every point it tries to make ultimately proves to be too distracting.
Despite Hollywood’s current dependence upon remakes and sequels, directors like Christopher Nolan and Joss Whedon have shown people that summer blockbuster films can still be smartly told. It is raising the bar to which lesser films are measured, and “Self/Less” winds up more than a little short. CV