Dull "Self/less" Plays Like Straight-To-DVD Fodder

Ryan Reynolds’ film career has been a dressing room montage of unflattering looks disapprovingly waved off by critics and general audiences alike, making sci-fi clunker “Self/less” even less noteworthy than it might have been.

With the star’s innate likability on life support, director Tarsem Singh (“The Cell”) ignores Reynolds’ talents altogether, mashing a tired screenplay by Alex and David Pastor into even sleepier visual stylings. The result is part debacle, part footnote, sure to remind viewers of the better films they could be watching if they weren’t such lousy decision makers.

The body-swapping, immortality-centered story might seem familiar to anyone who’s seen Cameron Crowe’s “Vanilla Sky” and should prove absolutely titillating to anyone who thought that movie was way too good.

The film opens with Sir Ben Kingsley as its lead. He’s playing Damian, a billionaire cancer patient who sees a speculative technology known as shedding as his ticket to immortality. It’s not an awful set-up, but the screenplay finds the most boring point of entry possible – wealthy person small talk – and never tells us all that much about Damian. Even after his consciousness has been transferred to a younger, supposedly lab-grown body.

Now cursed to a life of constantly being told he looks like floundering movie star Ryan Reynolds – this doesn’t happen, but it should because it’s a more interesting idea than anything in the movie – Damian sets off to… live. Act two is comprised mostly of Damian merely existing, doing the wild and crazy things he couldn’t do in his old body. Like eating peanut butter out of the jar. Because old Damian had a peanut allergy.

Once our lead gets young-person things like running and Skippy-raging out of his system, he starts experiencing inexplicable flashbacks to a life he never lived. This leads the story exactly where we think it’s going, full-up with unremarkable gunfights and car chases and terrible dialogue (“It has that new body smell” and “Death has some side effects” are particularly egregious).

Matthew Goode (“The Imitation Game”) plays the stock British villain whose body-swapping company turns out to not be on the up and up – who would’ve guessed? – while Natalie Martinez (“End Of Watch”) supports as the subject of Damian’s flashbacks. Neither performer is very good, but like Kingsley and Reynolds, they’re the least of the pic’s problems.

There are a few moments when the film teeters on the edge of self-reflexiveness, only to pull back and become more listless than before. Its most interesting visual idea – a flamethrowner as a deadly weapon – isn’t much of al idea at all. But both director and screenwriters wield it like they’ve cracked a code, reprising its use like an encore that nobody called out for.

How bad is “Self/less?” It’s not even the best Ryan Reynolds body-swap movie (that would be half-baked comedy “The Change-Up”) or the best guilty pleasure sci-fi thriller with an unnecessary forward slash in its title (John Woo’s “Face/Off”).

These are low bars to clear, but “Self/less” is content to just stumble up to them and lie down for a nap it never wakes up from.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: July 10, 2015
Studio: Gramercy Pictures
Director: Tarsem Singh
Screenwriters: Alex Pastor, David Pastor
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Ben Kingsley, Matthew Goode, Natalie Martinez, Victor Garber, Derek Luke
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence, some sexuality, and language)