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With a better story, 'Self/less' could've been a sci-fi contender
Ryan Reynolds stars as Young Damian in Gramercy Pictures' provocative psychological science fiction thriller Self/less. - photo by Josh Terry
SELF/LESS Ryan Reynolds, Ben Kingsley, Matthew Goode, Natalie Martinez, Derek Luke, Victor Garber; PG-13 (sequences of violence, some sexuality, and language); in general release

Self/less gets an A for concept and a C for execution. By sacrificing character and believability for action, director Tarsem Singh dumbs down what could have been a compelling sci-fi flick.

Ben Kingsley plays Damian, a wealthy New York developer with terminal cancer. In order to stave off mortality, he buys his way into a top-secret program that will transition his consciousness into a younger body that was grown in a lab. They call it shedding, and the catch is that you have to leave your former life behind to participate.

Actually thats just the first catch. Following a successful operation, Damian has a brand-new body (now played by Ryan Reynolds). The head of the program, a proper fellow named Albright (Matthew Goode), sets him up in a posh New Orleans mansion and turns him loose on the French Quarter, where Damian promptly begins sowing the kind of wild oats he left behind decades earlier.

But the party is frequently interrupted by strange flashes of memories Damian doesnt recognize. Albright gives him medication and insists that the hallucinations should go away within a year, but Damian begins to suspect that his new body wasnt grown in a lab at all.

Its an intriguing set up, but from here, Self/less seems more interested in action than plot, racing ahead to solve the mystery with flying bullets and car crashes instead of story. As you might expect, Damian eventually has to explain his predicament to more than one member of the supporting cast, and their hasty acceptance pushes Self/less hard towards the fiction side of the science fiction equation.

The tragedy here is that Self/less has the raw material for a quality film, and even in its current form, it has its high points. Eventually Damian discovers that the body swap process is only partially complete, and that the medication is the key to overwriting his new bodys original occupant. But the moral dilemma is lost in the mayhem.

Speaking of which, the mayhem in Self/less is definitely on the high end of its PG-13 rating. While its not especially graphic or gory, its more intense than you might expect in a sci-fi thriller. The details are hazy, but Ryan Reynolds original occupant seems to have a bit of Jason Bourne in him.

Its hard to pin blame on the acting here, given the clunkiness of the story. But it would have helped to see Reynolds character veer a bit between the two personalities in his body. The supporting cast does their best, though again, they buy into the outrageous scenario so easily that you cant really call any character in the film believable.

It is interesting to note the role New Orleans plays in the film. Self/less doesnt make it obvious, but if you are familiar with the cultural background of the city (and especially if you remember 2005s The Skeleton Key), youll probably hold a deeper appreciation for the films body-swapping theme.

It wont necessarily make Self/less a good movie, but it cant hurt.

Often the complaint is that Hollywood insists on remaking perfectly good movies in the name of dollar signs. Self/less is the kind of movie that could genuinely use a redo. It feels like a waste of a good idea.

Self/less is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, some sexuality, and language, including a single use of the F-word; running time: 117 minutes.