The idea of human consciousness going mobile is an intriguing one: What if you could actually trade minds with another person?
That’s the premise of “Self/less,” a disappointing mind-transfer tale notable for its performances if not its dramaturgy. Writers David and Alex Pastor and director Tarsem Singh take a brain-tickler of an idea and then squander it on an action film.
The story begins with Damian (Ben Kingsley), a mega-rich businessman about whom everything seems to be hateful (including his terrible accent, which brings together all the musicality of Brooklyn and New Jersey into one ear-grating growl). But it’s his story so what are you going to do?
He happens to be dying — quickly — and sees only one way out: “shedding,” an experimental procedure offered only to the rich and powerful by a mysterious scientist named Albright (Matthew Goode). For a huge chunk of his fortune, Damian will be able to transfer his consciousness from his dying frame into a fresh body which, he is told, has been grown specially in a laboratory just for him.
He goes for it, heading to New Orleans (because that’s where the movie-making tax credits used to be) for the procedure. When he wakes up, he looks like Ryan Reynolds (who manages the neat trick of capturing Kingsley’s chilly reserve without indulging in his showy faux accent).
Damian has arranged for his money to find its way back to him and starts a new life in the Big Easy, with one small problem: He’s taking a drug meant to prevent the body from rejecting his consciousness (the way people who have organ transplants do). But when he misses a dose by more than a few minutes, he starts having soul-shattering hallucinations, as though this body had memories of another life.
Naturally, he starts pulling at that thread, which is when the movie unravels. Instead of being heady, it becomes a movie about running and shooting. When Damian diverges from Albright’s prescribed course, he finds himself being hunted by men with guns, even as he tries to track down the actual versions of the images in his hallucinations.
There is lip-service paid to a few of the ideas, about morality and immortality, but that’s all just frosting on a tedious action-movie cake. Kingsley disappears after the first 20 minutes and, while Reynolds and Goode are never less than fully committed, they’re trapped in a mechanical formula from which there is no escape.
There’s less — much less — than meets the eye in “Self/less.” It would be a brain teaser, if it only had a brain.