You'd think a movie about transplanting human consciousness would be smarter than this.
Although Self/less begins with some cool high-tech bioscience business (side-by-side PET scan gizmos, an older, dying guy's memory and identity transferred to a 30-something's bod), by the third act of Tarsem Singh's howler of a thriller, people are running each other down in SUVs and heading for an abandoned warehouse by the river for a climactic shootout. (If I had a dollar for every movie that ends in an abandoned warehouse, I could pay for my own consciousness-transplant procedure.)
Ben Kingsley, talking in a New Yawk accent and living in a New Yawk penthouse, is Damian Hale. He's a real estate kabillionaire, and he's terminally ill, the cancer metastasizing fast. Luckily, he has a business card in his pocket from Phoenix Biogenics, a secret operation that specializes in neurological "shedding." Give them wads of cash, and they'll give you immortality. Or, in Damian's case, they'll transfer your ego, your intellect, and all the stuff that makes you you into the brain of Ryan Reynolds.
Suddenly, Gandhi looks like Green Lantern. Disturbing.
Matthew Goode, radiating a chilly Brit-sinister vibe, is Albright, the genius behind this enterprise. He assures Damian that his young, healthy replacement vessel is a genetically engineered "bundle of organic tissue" spawned in the lab. But once Reynolds' Damian starts living his new life, under a new name in a new town (New Orleans - home of stately French Quarter manses and generous film-production tax credits), he begins to experience unsettling "hallucinations."
Albright gives him a vial of red pills, and the new Damian hits the nightclubs and goes bingeing on one-night stands. But the hallucinations continue, and they sure seem like the flashbacks of someone else's memory. A water tower painted like a pumpkin? An Army sortie in the desert? A beautiful Latina woman?
"I never said she was Latina," a suddenly skeptical new Damian says to Albright when the doctor, with an air of faux carefreeness, rattles back a list of his patient's disconcerting visions.
It would be unprofessional to reveal more, apart from noting that Natalie Martinez, who, yes, could pass for a Latina, is one of the film's stars. Others engaged in this tomfoolery include veteran character actor Victor Garber, Derek Luke, the child thespian Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery, and Sandra Ellis Lafferty, a Meryl Streep doppelganger if ever there was one.
In fact, if Self/less hits at the box office (don't count on it), Alex and David Pastor, the Spanish screenwriting siblings behind this masterpiece, are said to be ready with another speculative high concept: a mad scientist who figures out how to clone Meryl Streep so she can go on winning Oscars forever.
Lafferty has signed to star.
Self/less ** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Tarsem Singh. With Ben Kingsley, Ryan Reynolds, Matthew Goode, Natalie Martinez, Derek Luke. Distributed by Gramercy Pictures.
1 hour, 56 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (violence, profanity, sex, adult themes).