Self/less

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"Where do I know you from? Schindler's List? Wait, were you Gandhi?"

I asked a friend if he wanted to go with me to the screening of this. He said he couldn’t tell from the commercials if it was a movie where people switch bodies like in Big, and it becomes a wacky comedy. He didn’t think the casting of Ben Kingsley and Ryan Reynolds would work for that. He then added, “Maybe I’m wrong and it’s like Face/Off, in which case…the casting still doesn’t work. I think I’ll pass.”

It’s not a crazy comedy, but a serious film (sometimes, it takes itself a bit too seriously). It’s a movie that certainly borrows from lots and lots of other films.

Sir Ben Kingsley places Damian Hale, who’s a lot like Donald Trump minus the hair (and hatred of Mexicans). He does seem to hate anybody else that wants to build in New York, and we get an opening scene in which he screws a younger businessman over a building deal.

We also find out he has cancer, and only months to live.

No “spoiler alerts” are needed (yet), because the trailers give lots away. It would’ve been easy for critics and commercials to keep one detail hidden, but they didn’t. That is (SPOILER ALERT for the next sentence)…when Kingsley finds a body that a scientist gives him to take over, it turns out it belonged to an injured soldier (SPOILER ALERT over).

Matthew Goode plays the scientist that does a procedure called “shedding.” Your mind and consciousness can be put in a body they’ve created in a lab, and…it’s just like you never died. Heck, you even have a new head of hair. And a body and face that looks like Ryan Reynolds, thanks to all the magic they can do in a lab these days.

He has to learn to walk again, and he’s a bit groggy. I don’t know why, but people being groggy after death in movies cracks me up. I loved Albert Brooks doing that in Defending Your Life, and I love it here; especially because the script is rather sharp (thanks to screenwriting brothers Alex and David Pastor).

The movie makes a few big mistakes. One of them is that you can tell which characters are bad and which are good. You wonder why they didn’t have the bad guys twirling their mustache before giving a speech.

It’s also really predictable and at some point you think – why did they take such an interesting premise and turn it into a car chase picture? They missed a few small things here and there. One time you’ll wonder why a door was unlocked (doesn’t anybody lock their doors in movies?). I also wondered why when they showed Hale in his new body, they did a montage straight out of Wedding Crashers. It showed different women with their heads hitting the pillow. Did nobody mention this while watching the dailies? There could’ve been better ways to convey that (although around that time in the movie, I will give them credit for a phone number being given that didn’t start with “555”).

A side story involving Hale’s daughter Claire (Michelle Dockery) working for a environmentalist group, could’ve been awfully. It surprisingly works. When Hale first shows up, willing to give her some money, they fight in such a realistic way. At one point Claire says, “I’m working” and Hale snaps, “This isn’t working! It’s children throwing a tantrum.”

She refuses his money.

And how can they possibly reconcile if he’s in a new body and has made a deal with the scientist not to reveal what happened? Since he dropped $250 million for the procedure, we’re assuming he’ll hold up all his ends of the bargain.

There were a lot of things about this movie people might find hokey, but most of it worked. For example, we have one scene with various photos on the wall. We get a quick glimpse at his 60 plus years on the planet. One of those photos shows him shooting a basketball while wearing a Princeton jersey. So when Ryan Reynolds starts hooping it up on the courts of New Orleans, it’s fun. It’s not like he has this new body and new super powers [perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned that, lest we’re reminded of that turkey Green Lantern].

This movie was derivative in a way that was fun. Usually that’s an annoyance, but I enjoyed thinking, “Hey…that’s sort of like Gene Hackman’s character in Extreme Measures,” or “He can help out a charity like Warren Beatty in Heaven Can Wait.”

Some critics are comparing this to the Rock Hudson movie Seconds, but I’m not familiar with that 1966 film.

If lack of originality bothers you, or you hate when movies aren’t true to exact science, skip this. I’ve been told I’m hard to please, but this movie worked for me.

It gets 3 stars out of 5.