Self/Less film review: life at what cost?

Ben Kingsley and Ryan Reynolds star in sci-fi body swap tale Self/Less

Self Less

Aside from the lush interior shots of grandly designed buildings and a young girl watching from the sidelines as violence gradually strips away her innocence, you wouldn’t know Tarsem Singh was involved in Self/Less.

A promising body transplant setup, which begins like an update of John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, but with an emphasis on the current state of the US healthcare system, eventually falls into generic action-thriller territory.

When wealthy businessman Damian (Ben Kingsley) is informed that he has terminal cancer, his affluence allows him to opt for an immortality treatment that transplants his mind into a younger, healthy body, which comes in the form of Ryan Reynolds.

A sinister organisation run by a British professor (Matthew Goode being sufficiently creepy) carries out the procedure, but it comes with certain rules that when broken lead to stern punishment.

Without wanting to give too much away, an overabundance of ideas regarding human sacrifice, the right to decent healthcare no matter what your income, the morality of genetic engineering and the deterioration of the body and mind are introduced throughout the film, but unfortunately aren’t satisfactorily explored.

Considering it is supposed to be Kingsley’s distinguished gentleman inhabiting Reynolds’ physique, there’s hardly any attempt to take on his mannerisms. Though this oversight can be explained at some points thanks to a handy script development, more fun might have come from working with this rather than ignoring it.

Not that it doesn’t try at humour, but its attempts are glib and condescending. When the young Damian is test-running his new body and acting like a player, his reaction to a woman stripping out of her clothes is “I haven’t seen anything like that in about 52 years,” which is just gross and cringe-inducing.

In addition to that, a swift introduction to Damian means that he’s not properly shaded in making his path to enlightenment while walking in another man’s shoes unconvincing.

Self/Less approaches high-concept sci-fi with a serious-mind, but also shoe-horns in banal moments of broad entertainment, making it a difficult pill to swallow.