dir Tarsem Singh
scr David Pastor, Alex Pastor
prd Ram Bergman, Peter Schlessel, James D Stern
with Ryan Reynolds, Matthew Goode, Natalie Martinez, Ben Kingsley, Victor Garber, Derek Luke, Michelle Dockery, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, Melora Hardin, Brendan McCarthy, Thomas Francis Murphy, Sandra Ellis Lafferty
release US 10.Jul.15, UK 17.Jul.15
15/US Focus 1h56
The skin I live in: Reynolds

goode martinez kingsley
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Self/Less An intriguing spin on the usual immortality morality tale, this film starts strong but never manages to build up a proper head of steam. Director Singh gives every scene a strong sense of style, with cleverly edgy camerawork and editing adding to the tone. But the story lacks any weight or point, and becomes less interesting with every twist and turn.

Damien (Kingsley) is a filthy rich Manhattan businessman with only six months to live when he hears about a doctor (Goode) who performs a medical process called "shedding", in which his mind is implanted in a lab-created body. He wakes up as Edward (Reynolds), then creates a new life for himself. But when he misses his transition meds, he has a disturbing series of visions that lead him to question the whole shedding process. As he seeks answers, he meets Madeline (Martinez) and, now on the run, gets some help from his colleague-friend Martin (Garber).

Part of the problem with this film is that Damien's character is only barely established before the actors switch, which means that we never get to know him beyond only a few superficial plot points. This leaves him very difficult to sympathise with, despite Reynold's committed, often emotionally resonant performance. Everyone else on-screen feels like little more than plot material, from Goode's slippery scientist to Luke's friendly stranger to Dockery as Damien's estranged environmental activist daughter.

Even with considerable frantic mayhem, all of the characters go exactly where we think they'll go. Screenwriters David and Alex Pastor continually throw in twists that don't quite make sense (yes, there's a lot more body-swapping). And the film is frequently punctuated with shoot-outs and car chases that are both surprisingly grisly and utterly gratuitous. Instead of exploring the meaningful issues of identity and mortality, the film instead opts to be a simplistic action thriller with preachy, moralistic overtones.

Thankfully, Singh manages to stir up quite a lot of uncertainty within this underdeveloped narrative. The way scenes are cut together continually throws us off-balance, bringing up a sense of dread that never really plays out but is enjoyable while it lasts. His artistic sensibility adds interest to the New Orleans locations, the ostentatious wealth of Damien's Central Park penthouse and the eerily temporary shedding laboratory. So it's a real shame that the story peters out so early on.

cert 12 themes, violence, language 14.Jul.15

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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall