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Front Page - Friday, July 17, 2015

Self/less mostly thought/less

The Critic's Corner

David Laprad

How did movie characters solve mysteries before the advent of Google? It must have been much harder. Today, the answers to even the knottiest enigmas are a few key words and a click or two away.

Take the scene in “Self/less” in which billionaire industrialist Damian Hale is trying to make sense of a vision he keeps having. He sits down at a computer, types in “water tower + pumpkin,” clicks a few links, and BAM! There’s the water tower he keeps seeing.

Not only that, but Hale drives to the water tower, walks to a nearby house (for reasons that are unclear), enters the house (for reasons that are even less clear), and conveniently finds the wife of the man whose body he’s inhabiting. He does all of this with a Google search, but I can’t find the song I like from the movie’s soundtrack.

Google does most of the heavy lifting in the movie. When Hale is at a dead end trying to figure out who the villain is, another quick search helpfully yields a video that provides the answer.

Unfortunately, the movie’s absurd use of Google isn’t its biggest problem. That would be the lack of thought that went into the script. “Self/less” should have been an intelligent exploration of the nature of identity, or a biting satire of the ways the wealthy justify their exploitation of the lower classes. It might not have been popcorn-munching fun, but at least it would have made sense. Instead, “Self/less” is little more than a nonsensical action thriller.

At least the premise is promising. Hale is filthy rich. So much so that his apartment walls are made of gold, and stately Roman columns hold up the ceiling of his bedroom. Yet he’s estranged from his only daughter and he lives alone. Sadly, his best friend and only confidant is his lawyer.

But Hale has money, and lots of it. He also has cancer, and is about to die when he’s given a business card with a hand written note on the back – “They can help.” Quicker than a Google search, he’s talking with Albright, the head of a clandestine company that promises to transfer his consciousness into an empty human vessel – for a cool $250 million. His old life will be over, but he’ll have what’s left of his money and a fresh start in a younger body. He’ll also get to look like Ryan Reynolds, which, judging by the way attractive women swarm to his bed after the swap, is a pretty good thing.

Hale certainly has fun taking his new body out for a spin. And he might have continued to indulge himself if it weren’t for the pesky seizures and the strange things he sees when he’s having them. Albright writes them off as his mind adjusting to a new neural system, and gives him pills to stop them. But Hale soon learns they’re something else entirely, and must make a moral choice in which two lives hang in the balance, and only one can continue forward.

Inane Google antics aside, this is a sweet setup. And writers David and Alex Pastor throw in several twists that keep the plot from becoming boring. Regrettably, they didn’t work hard enough to keep it from becoming dumb.

Instead, they took the lazy way out and turned “Self/less” into an action movie. And a poorly staged one at that. A car chase that serves only to get rid of a couple of Albright’s goons ends with Hale inexplicably luring the other drivers into a head-on collision. Also questionable is how Hale is able to get out of tight situations by allowing his host’s military training to take over. It barely worked in the Bourne movies, and it doesn’t work at all here. Neither do the shootouts, the fist fights, the sneaking around highly protected facilities, and so on.

Even after all of that, I liked how “Self/less” ended, if only because it strikes the right emotional note. I left the movie unsatisfied, though, and wishing it had been something more.

At least Google performed admirably.

Two stars out of four. Rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality, and language.

David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at dlaprad@hamiltoncountyherald.com.