By: Kevin Jordan
There’s a twist coming.
When I saw the previews for Self/less, I was very intrigued by the concept – living forever. Admittedly, it’s not a new concept, but the execution of the idea always seems to be new. Vampirism. Mutant healing powers. Worm-excreted Spice. Growing clones and harvesting their organs. Space bathwater. The immortality sub-genre is bigger and more diverse than you think. We are drawn to these movies, because who doesn’t want to live forever?
In Self/less, immortality is achieved by connecting bodies through two interconnected MRI machines. Think of it as a bit of a cross between The Fly and The Island and you’ll be ready to watch this flick.
(Note: I promise I will not SPOIL anything from the movie or that you haven’t already seen in the previews.)
The film begins with our main character, Damian (Ben Kingsley), staring out of the window of his opulent, high-rise home, contemplating his imminent death from cancer. I’ll spare you the details, but we learn that Damian is a ruthless, manipulative, asshole businessman who will use his ridiculously large fortune (the man’s entire apartment is gilded in gold, including his furniture) to buy his way out of any problem, including dying. Which brings us to the previously described MRI-body-switching process called Shedding. Picture a snake molting and you have an apt metaphor for Damian’s situation, though the actual process depicted in the film looks a lot like the memory transplant machine in Total Recall.
After a successful transition into his new body, Ryan Reynolds takes over for Ben Kingsley as Damian and we all wonder why great actors like Kingsley and J.K. Simmons are being cast in smaller and smaller roles (what Terminator: Genisys did with Simmons was borderline criminal). We’re also told the rules of engagement for Damian:
- He can’t tell anyone who he really is (because his former body was very publicly dead and buried),
- And he has to take a little red pill every day to keep from hallucinating.
After relearning how to walk, run, and do various other physical activities (hilariously, he can talk right away though), Damian takes his new body out for a spin by playing basketball, jet-boating, and having sex with a parade of female twenty-somethings. Happy with his new body, Damian puts the rest of his devious, villainous, post-mortem plan into action… (Which, to the chagrin of the male portion of the audience, does not involve more naked women.)
…Damian’s devious plan was to step into an executive at his company, explaining to the board that this new, young guy had been secretly groomed for the role. The board is convinced to give this stranger a chance, and he proves his worth by securing a huge contract. A short time later, Damian is in St. Louis when he happens across Madeline (Natalie Martinez). Madeline recognizes Damian’s body as her husband, whom she thought had died, triggering memories in Damien’s head that do not belong to him. Damian insists she is mistaken and retreats to New York. The Magic MRI Machine doctor explains that they are not memories, but glitches as his consciousness adjust to the neural pathways of the new body. The doctor doubles the dose of pills for Damian and assures him that after enough time has passed the pills will no longer be necessary. A short while later, Madeline tracks down Damian and proves her claim by showing him pictures of her husband. This is the catalyst for the second half of the film which consists entirely of the doctor and his men trying to capture and kill Damian and Madeline to keep them from revealing the Magic MRI Machine secrets.
(Note: this is almost completely off-topic, but the movie contains a scene that made me want to beat a Mac enthusiast to death with their own MacBook Air. While explaining the promise of his invention, the doctor says “Imagine what the greatest minds could do with an extra fifty or sixty years. Einstein, Edison, Steve Jobs.” Hold on – Steve Jobs? Are you kidding me? The same Steve Jobs whose company changes the design of their device charger every 18 months? That Steve Jobs? It wouldn’t have been quite so egregious if there wasn’t a MacBook featured in almost every scene in the film.)
With the exception of the hilariously weak MRI machine body switcher, the story is pretty solid, though a bit predictable in Damian’s attempt at redemption. It’s logical, doesn’t contradict itself, and the motivations all work, based on the character development. There’s just one big problem that I need to mention…
…that’s not how the movie actually goes. I made up almost all of it.
Didn’t see that one coming, did you? I just M. Night Shyamalan’d you. The actual movie feels forced in just about everything that you see happening, and New Damian’s actions don’t match with Old Damian’s very brief character development. The way Damian figures out the truth is totally contrived and none of his actions after the body switch match with a man who just spent $250 million for a second life and has an elaborately-carved cherub fountain in his dining room. The sad thing is that it only took me a couple of hours to come up with a much more believable situation and transition for Damian than what two writers undoubtedly spent months on.
Rating: Ask for six dollars back. It’s actually an okay movie, but one that clearly could have been much better.