Self/less

Who knew that a costume designer was so important to a movie? …and, more importantly, I suppose– to a director’s legacy?

For years I’ve been under thinking Tarsem was a stunning, visionary director. So-so movies like The Cell, Immortals, and Julia Roberts’ Mirror Mirror were made much more interesting due to Tarsem’s unique and captivating visual style.

Seeing his latest, though, I’m starting to realize his brilliance was due, more than anything, to costume designer Eiko Ishioka. Self/less is the only movie Tarsem has directed without her by his side (she passed away in 2012), and it lands in theaters with all the stunning vision of a beige yawn.

Ben Kingsley stars as Damian Hale, an uber-rich (marble fountains in his gold-plated living room) real estate developer who is rapidly dying of cancer. He decides to go out with a bang, though, taking advantage of Phoenix Biogenics, who swaps you into a new, younger, genetically-engineered body with a whole new identity… for a mere $250 million. Hale becomes Edward Kitner (Ryan Reynolds) and is given a New Orleans mansion, a Lamborghini, and a bottle of pills, with instructions to take one every day. When he misses one, hallucinations start– giving glimpses of another life… a woman, a little girl, a house in the suburbs.

It doesn’t take long for Damian to figure out the big secret; it isn’t a new body at all, it’s the dead body of a guy who sold himself to Phoenix. And naturally, when Damian tracks down the woman (reuniting her with the husband she thought was dead), the Phoenix folks don’t take too kindly to it.

In theory, Self/less is actually a fairly interesting premise. It has all the trappings of a whiz-bang sci-fi headgame thriller, but it isn’t long before the wheels fall off. The collapse starts early on, with the idiotic plot point that sets the whole movie in motion, as the Phoenix rep mistakenly gives away the big secret to Damian. It’s a ridiculous moment, and since the whole movie hinges on it, the film crumbles on its own foundation.

Reynolds, who is following up the underwhelming Woman in Gold, proves once again that he just doesn’t have the talent or ability to carry a movie and to bring some much-needed gravitas to this kind of role. In fact every single character is so completely one-dimensional; the lone standout is Michelle Dockery, who is on screen for maybe three minutes as Damian’s estranged daughter.

Tarsem, directing a lazy screenplay by brothers David and Alex Pastor (Out of the Dark), brings absolutely nothing to the table; there’s never any tension or suspense, despite clear attempts. By the time you get halfway through Self/less (if not earlier), you’ll have already figured out there’s only one way the movie can end. And, yawn, it’s exactly what happens.

It’s not so much Self/less as it is Point/less.

1.5/5 stars