The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Self/less is one of those movies that has a great concept, yet doesn't really know how to get the maximum mileage from it. This is the latest in a line of fairly recent science-fiction thrillers in which technology appears to offer a miracle, only to betray that promise with nightmarish results. Limitless and Transcendence are two other examples. There is something inherently compelling about such stories, even when they don't fully work, and that's certainly true here, to a degree. To use a well-worn, yet apt, cliché, the movie is just good enough to make you wish it was better.

Ben Kingsley plays Damian Hale, an extremely wealthy businessman who is dying of cancer. Unwilling to accept his own mortality – or surrender everything he's worked for – he visits a scientist named Albright (Matthew Goode), the proprietor of an experimental technology that allows a person's consciousness to be transferred into a younger body. Damian undergoes the process, assured that the “vessel” he will be entering has been genetically created in a lab. Upon awakening, he is decades younger (and portrayed by Ryan Reynolds). It quickly becomes clear, though, that his new body once belonged to another man, one who had a wife (Natalie Martinez) and young daughter. Albright goes to potentially deadly lengths to prevent New Damian from making or maintaining contact with them.

The idea of a person entering a different body isn't exactly original, but Self/less manages to do some fun things with it, at least initially. Upon waking up a younger man, Damian begins partying and sleeping with any woman he can find. He starts a new life for himself, enjoying the money he worked his whole (previous) life for. Then he starts having flashbacks, and the plot evolves into something of a puzzle, as he tries to figure out what the pieces mean and how they fit together. Some intriguing twists can be found in the first half of the picture, as New Damian begins to discover the extent to which he's been deceived.

Ryan Reynolds is quite good in the lead role, bringing an appropriately quizzical nature to the hero. Each thing Damian can't explain makes him want, and need, to know more. It's a solid performance from Reynolds, who also lends a sense of believability to the film's action scenes. Director Tarsem Singh (Immortals, The Cell) gives him a couple of really solid ones to work with, most notably a shootout at an old farm house and a harrowing car chase.

Despite all these good qualities, there is a huge, gaping hurdle that Self/less simply can't get over. The main character's arc lends the movie its title. Old Damian was a greedy S.O.B. with questionable ethics. In his new skin, he has to learn to care for others, specifically the wife and child of the guy whose body he now inhabits. The film doesn't show us much about Old Damian before he changes, which makes his transition less than credible. There's one scene showing him screwing over a fellow businessman, and one showing that he was an absentee parent to his now-grown daughter. Beyond that, insufficient development exists for us to extrapolate some kind of radical personality shift on his part.

Moreover, it never seems as though Reynolds and Kingsley are playing the same person. Aside from a tendency to throw car keys on a chair when entering the house, nothing about the character's two iterations seems consistent. New Damian is a fairly nice guy, not at all like the cutthroat, wealth-obsessed jerk Old Damian is allegedly supposed to be. With the evolution of the protagonist stunted, Self/less fails to achieve the thematic depth it is clearly reaching for.

Some movies, while not entirely successful, deserve to be seen anyway, for the stuff that they get right. It's just a matter of where you see them. Self/less will make a perfectly good Redbox or Netflix rental down the road. The material that works, works well. The stuff that doesn't, on the other hand, drags the film down into that weird, vague middle-of-the-road area. It's sort of a decent movie, and sort of a letdown. Neither one all the way, but both simultaneously.

( 1/2 out of four)

Self/less is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, some sexuality, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.

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