A story initially dealing with questions of identity and immortality might seem fitting for Tarsem Singh, a director who in his times at the helm has crafted fantastical, imaginative worlds. Self/Less would be, could be a fitting vehicle then, but what is a curious conceit takes a turn for the perfunctory in a film that is as mediocre as it is disappointing.
With an inane naming convention, Self/Less finds the wealthy real estate mogul Damien (Ben Kingsley) dying, and desiring to hold on to some of his life. Or at least, his brain. He opts for an innovative procedure with the mysterious Albright (Matthew Goode), transferring his still sound mind into the body of a hale, handsome specimen (Ryan Reynolds).
Unexpected, or rather untold side effects of the operation finds Damien experiencing visions that for some reason he has to investigate. It takes him from New Orleans to the Midwest and back again in one ridiculous turn after the other, which includes gun fights and car chases, and so we leave anything the least bit intriguing for that which is loud, frenetic, and fleeting.
Before the film dissolves into said absurd melodrama, where easy plot conveniences come into play, Damien has fun in his younger body, playing basketball and bedding previously unattainable women. That Self/Less goes the route of adventure-thriller, one lacking in any imagination, is unfortunately the only thing that might provoke your mind. With this new body comes a sudden sense of duty and honour strangely; Damien seeks the truth out about Albright and his clandestine company (why he didn’t before the procedure is concerning), and also decides to try reconnecting with his estranged daughter.
He also wants to do right by his best friend Martin (Victor Garber) and a single mom Madeline (Natalie Martinez) who becomes an innocent bystander in the craziness. Damien’s curiosities get him on the wrong side of some well-armed mercenaries, but wouldn’t you know it, the body he inherited is equipped at combat and weapons-training, so he isn’t just running away, he’s dispatching baddies and blowing things up too.
Self/Less drifts wildly, looking to capture a whole range of emotions and failing to in fact engender any. Turgid, hollow storytelling is barely held afloat by Reynolds, forced to play someone else in his own body, I suppose, looking equal parts confused and determined. He fights the silliness with dignity as a hopeful action hero, but what could be either an entertaining lark or a cerebral thriller falls sadly in between, aimless and joyless.