In 2009, Buffy creator Joss Whedon captured our imaginations with the short-lived Dollhouse, a sci-fi action series where the minds of deceased, frail, creative and/or uber-rich people could be implanted into living hosts or dolls, with or without their permission.
Six years later, director Tarsem Singh has applied the same basic concept to Self/less, only this time Ryan Reynolds gets to run around really confused and ruin things for the neuroscientist bad guys. Damian (Ben Kingsley), a terminally ill billionaire, undergoes a procedure to abandon his former frail body and become young Damian (Reynolds), living it up as a thirty-something playboy in New Orleans.
An audience could have swallowed this premise, if Kingsley and Reynolds had shared any of the same characteristics, ostensibly playing the same character for much of the film. Reynolds’ portrayal is so divorced from Kingsley’s it seems questionable that he even saw the actor at all, while Kingsley’s half attempt at a New York accent (which sounds like his dialect coach quit halfway through) is one of the lower points in the great thespian’s career.
Just like Dollhouse’s Echo (Eliza Dushku), Damian begins to hallucinate and experience visions of his body’s original owner, leading him on a search for an unknown woman (Natalie Martinez). The bad guy (Matthew Goode), as is the fashion these days, is very, very British.
It’s a great idea which could have been pulled off with a competent script and a decent acting coach. A sorely predictable plot and conclusion are rendered even less engaging by the none-too-subtle early reveals in key action scenes of what could have been, cheating the opportunity to surprise a wanting audience.
Worst of all, there are things that just don’t really make any sense, at all.
How is it that a random business up-and-comer knows all about billionaire Damian’s disease when his own daughter somehow hasn’t found out? How come Damian is only supposed to take his anti-hallucinating pills every 24 hours when he experiences visions if he hasn’t doped up for 12 hours? Why, when you are discreetly trying to destroy a house and make it look like an accident, do you use a flamethrower in broad daylight?
Dollhouse, showing huge promise, was regrettably cut short after two seasons while Self/less just can’t flesh out any number of good plotlines, scenarios or ideas that naturally arise from its basic premise. A top idea with endless potential, Self/less fails to do its concept justice.