Self/less invests in innovating the sci-fi genre as much as it allows movie goers to invest in its characters - which isn't enough.
Ben Kingsley, who only appears in the first third of Self/less, is Damian, "The man who built New York," as his colleagues, not friends, refer to him. He is a cut throat business man in a body which is beginning to fail him. Of course, the solution to that problem as seen in all the Self/less previews, is "shedding," or, transferring his consciousness to another body. In this case, that body happens be Ryan Reynolds.
The transfer of consciousness is not the focus of the film by any means, nor should it be. The focus is the trouble in paradise which arises after Damian starts having physically painful dreams or memories (he can't tell them apart) in his glorious new body. Naturally, curiosity arises and Damian follows the leads his new brain sporadically shares with him and finds problems.
The biggest problem found is the lack of investment in the characters. Damian has been made out to be nothing but a rich jerk who 99% percent of movie goers will find unrelatable but when he finds clues to his new body's previous life, such as the previous occupant's presumed widow of a wife (Natalie Martinez), his thought non-existent heart suddenly grows as the Grinch's does that one time Jim Carrey played him. The inconsistency of Damian, going from monstrous business man to sacrificial and big-hearted old man, doesn't allow the audience to fully invest in the movie's main character.
If the audience wants to go for a ride, regardless of characters, Self/less has a lot to offer. The story, written by Alex and David Pastor who usually dabble with Spanish horror flicks, is a thrill if nothing else. Following Reynolds and Martinez on an action packed (and extremely emotional on behalf of Martinez) is more than expected. Be it intense car chases, houses burning down, gun fights, or choreographed fight sequences with a somewhat seasoned action star, Self/less offers more intensity through its action than anything else.
Advertised looking to be very sci-fi in nature, there isn't much science fiction going on in Self/less. The obvious consciousness swap takes a scene of the movie but never does the dialogue or events go into explicit detail of how the machine which makes the transfer works. It never has to and this fact doesn't squander the film by any means. Director Tarsem Singh understands this and wisely allocated budget to creating an intense chase scene and other spectacles rather than an effects heavy science fiction scene where Damian's consciousness is transferred.
After leaving Self/less, there is no clear message from the movie. It's more of sitting down, having some popcorn, and taking a 117-minute ride with a talented cast. The ride will twist, it will turn, and when you expect it to go one way, it will go another. This is, in fact, the most delightful aspect of Self/less. There are several points where viewers may think, "I've got this all figured out," but they're most likely wrong.
All things considered, Self/less will likely give most viewers more than they expected. The film can't be judged by it's trailers, that's for sure. Self/less delivers thrills through its action and plot while leaving the sci-fi and, sadly, a consistent lead character behind. The latest endeavor for Reynolds seems to draw from the action and suspense of Safe House while throwing in a touch a the science and ill-moraled humanity from The Island.
Bottom Line: Self/less falls a bit short of what it could have been but still manages to deliver a thrilling action movie. Perhaps it would have been more suspenseful had we invested in the characters. 6.5/10