FILM REVIEW: Self/Less (12A) **

Self/Less is a missed opportunity. PA Photo/Shedding Productions/Alan Markfield.
Self/Less is a missed opportunity. PA Photo/Shedding Productions/Alan Markfield.
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The legend of a fountain of youth, which restores the vitality of those who drink from its cascading waters, has been perpetuated in literature, art and folklore for centuries.

We yearn to escape our enslavement to the relentless tick-tock of time. Who wants to live forever? We do.

Director Tarsem Singh and screenwriters Alex and David Pastor consider a radical solution to mortality in the sci-fi thriller Self/Less: a medical procedure known as ‘shedding’, which transplants a human consciousness into a healthy new body.

It’s a neat central conceit, but the Pastor brothers’ execution is occasionally sloppy.

When they stun their bewildered protagonist with a complex moral conundrum at the hour mark, which should ignite an anguished internal conflict between self-preservation and self-sacrifice, the script focuses instead on kidnapping, gun battles and high-speed car chases.

Action sequences speak louder than words in Singh’s film.

What could have been a thought-provoking futuristic nightmare, begging tantalising theological questions, is reduced to a humdrum action thriller

New York industrialist Damian Hale (Sir Ben Kingsley) is a force of nature in the boardroom, flanked by devoted right-hand man Martin O’Neil (Victor Garber), but his billions are no match for cancer.

With less than six months to live, Damian contacts Phoenix Biogenic, run by the enigmatic Professor Albright (Matthew Goode), who claims to have pioneered a procedure that transplants the consciousness of wealthy patrons into a healthy body that has been grown in the laboratory.

Damian stages his death and reawakens as a 30-something hunk (Ryan Reynolds).

He studies a prepared identity, entrepreneur Edward Kittner, and starts afresh with stashed millions in New Orleans, befriending a local man called Anton (Derek), who is a passport to the city’s hedonistic nightlife.

Every day, Damian must take a red pill to stave off hallucinations, which Albright passes off as ‘glitches’.

When he misses one dose, vivid images of a single mother (Natalie Martinez) and her daughter (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) flood Damian’s brain, suggesting that Albright fibbed about the provenance of the genetically engineered host body.

Self/Less is a missed opportunity.

What could have been a thought-provoking futuristic nightmare, begging tantalising theological questions, is reduced to a humdrum action thriller.

Reynolds’ innate likeability can only sustain our interest so far and the script repeatedly lets him down.

Only in the closing minutes is there any attempt at emotional resolution, re-introducing Damian’s estranged activist daughter (Michelle Dockery) to tie up loose ends with a speed and ease that beggars belief.