When I was 14 years old, a movie called “The Cell” blew my mind. The film featured some of the most inspiring visual palette I had ever seen on a film, and as I looked to see who directed the film, a man who went by nothing but Tarsem, I saw that his later film, “The Fall” featured much of the same style of visuals, only to blow my mind another time over. From that point on, I put Tarsem on my radar for his upcoming films, which was a very fast approaching “Immortals.” I was stoked for “Immortals” as it was to combine Tarsem’s visual flare with the addition of 3D, but my dream was not to be. “Immortals” was a shoddy, mediocre film that did nothing to convince anyone I knew that Tarsem truly was a visionary. So I withheld myself for his next film, “Mirror Mirror,” an adaption of the classic Snow White tale made fabulous by his flair, except it wasn’t; it was silly, plain looking and rather boring. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. And yet, here I was, pretty excited to see if Tarsem could redeem himself with a change of pace and a less flashy film, a back-to-basics project if you will, with “Self/less.”
I think it’s time to let the glory of the past, stay in the past.
It’s not that “Self/less” is an egregiously bad film; it’s certainly better than “Immortals” and “Mirror Mirror,” but Tarsem (now going by a less edgy Tarsem Singh) seems to have lost his touch that made his previous works so fabulously mind blowing. Tarsem has traded in visual flair for narrative flair, but he doesn’t seem to fully commit to doing so, creating an incredibly convoluted plot that while making sense, does a terrible job at explaining itself otherwise. In the midst of the narrative mess, the action sequences, featuring what could’ve been the visual ferocity we wanted, come across as pedestrian and flat out boring. What even happens if you’re fooled a third time?
Damian Hale (Ben Kingsley) is a New York architecture mogul facing his final days before cancer takes over his body and kills him. Desperate for a way out, Hale looks to a company called Phoenix Biomedical headed by a man named Albright (Matthew Goode) to help him prolong his life by transferring his consciousness into a younger, empty body (Ryan Reynolds). Upon his first few weeks in his new body, Hale, now going by Edward Kitner, begins to experience hallucinations alluding to a past life of the body he is in. Upon investigation, he finds that he is inhabiting the body of a once living Mark, a husband and father who sold his life in exchange for healing his sick daughter. Now on the run from Phoenix Biomedical, Hale must now protect the family Mark left behind before they are all found and killed.
Reynolds does okay work as Hale, it’s nothing out of the ordinary for the Canadian actor, but again, the script seems to rely greatly on Reynolds looking pretty rather than fulfilling a deep and complicated character. Kingsley is surprisingly stiff in his role as the older, dying Hale, putting on a thickly forced, almost comical New York accent that barely eclipses Kingsley’s English accent. Kingsley seems to be paycheck hunting in this role, which isn’t entirely shameful, just underwhelming. Goode makes for a nice villain, who can lay on a thick layer of classiness to cover up the hamminess of the character, which seems to be a good strategy. Natalie Martinez, who plays Mark’s widow, finds herself to be the hardest working actor in the film, utilizing the most raw emotion and ferocity than any of the more experienced actors, showing the difference between a normal acting project and a paycheck project.
For a director that I regarded so highly as a high schooler, “Self/less” is pretty standard looking. Save for a few oddly edited scenes made to look edgy that come across as muddled, the film is not very visually stunning in any regard. I hate saying that Tarsem seems to be paycheck hunting as well, but without any sort of effort put forth by the seemingly talented director, I can’t help but think he cruised through each scene without much thought whatsoever. For a film that deals with such fantastical notions, “Self/less” stays regrettably grounded.
“Self/less” is a film that you’ll see on TNT in about two years, stop on it for a second, try to remember it, watch it some, and then turn it once the first commercial break happens, it’s just that kind of movie. For something with as much potential as this had, the film is pretty poorly paced, decently acted and boringly directed. This is a film, even though the plot might sound original, you’ve seen before, many times in fact. It’s the film you take a chance on without giving much thought about it, and a film that by the time you go to sleep the night after seeing it, will forget. Perhaps a few days later you may have spotty visions about it, but much like the hallucinations suffered by characters in the film, will pass very shortly.
Directed by: Tarsem Singh
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Natalie Martinez, Matthew Goode, Victor Garber, Derek Luke and Ben Kingsley.
Runtime: 116 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence, some sexuality and brief strong language.
Gramercy Pictures and Endgame Entertainment present, a Ram Bergman production, a Tarsem Singh film, “Self/less”