I’m sure most guys – whether they like to admit it or not – would jump at the chance to swap bodies with Ryan Reynolds. As proven in the past several years, the strapping and versatile leading man is built enough to fight off action movie foes, charm rom-com starlets, and still manage to show off some dramatic chops.
In the body-swapping sci-fi thriller Self/Less, he gets to remind us that he’s still got plenty of leading man DNA in him.
However, the first 10 minutes of the film, breathlessly paced and directed by visionary director Tarsem Singh, belong to Ben Kingsley. He’s billionaire industrialist Damian Hale (that name alone just reeks of hundred-dollar bills), a rich dude whose body is riddled with cancer. After attempting to make amends with his estranged daughter (Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery – with an American accent!), he accepts a highly exclusive invitation from the head of a secret group (a perfectly ice-cold Matthew Goode) to undergo a radical medical procedure called “shedding” that will give him a new lease on life. (Same consciousness, fresh new body.)
Enter Ryan Reynolds as the new and improved Damian, leaving his past life behind and adjusting to a new one down in New Orleans as “Edward.” (Hot car! A different hottie to bed every night!) But damn those body-swapping side effects! Soon Damian is stricken with crippling visions and fragments of what appears to be another past life. “Immortality has some side effects” is the explanation given to him, and yes, I couldn’t help but flash back to Meryl Streep’s oft-quoted response after she samples Isabella Rossellini’s magical tonic in Death Becomes Her: “NOW a warning?”
From there, once Damian meets a mysterious woman named Madeline (Natalie Martinez), who holds the key to his new body’s past, the mystery suddenly turns into a chase film, but in Tarsem’s skilled hands, it somehow manages to avoid becoming a derivative genre piece. While fans of Tarsem’s signature flamboyant visuals (The Cell, The Fall, Immortals) may expect a ton of eye candy, the director demonstrates admirable restraint here, opting to keep things tight and practical while following a tight and practical script by brothers David and Alex Pastor. (Look out for a late-night car chase on an open, rural road that is staged with visceral precision.)
Despite a few predictable developments (Victor Garber has never been so…Victor Garbier), plot holes that may stand out for some of you sticklers, and the under-usage of Derek Luke, Self/Less is still a capable and riveting ride that serves as a welcome alternative to your standard summer fare.