The gunfire and car crashes that dominate the second hour of the soul-swapping thriller “Self/less” (Focus) are sure signs that this ponderous property has run out of ideas.
Yet director Tarsem Singh’s Faustian fable about selling one’s soul to Satan in exchange for immortality begins on a potentially intriguing note.
Wealthy, ruthless industrialist Damian Hale (Ben Kingsley) is dying of cancer. Damian has always hedged his emotional bets. But he now hopes to repair his relationship with his estranged, idealistic daughter Claire (Michelle Dockery).
Better yet, Damian thinks he may have found an escape hatch from his fate thanks to Phoenix Biogenetics, a mysterious corporation that dabbles in a real-world technological movement called Transhumanism.
Through a process colloquially known as “shedding” and, of course, for a vast fee, Phoenix will transfer a client’s consciousness into a handsomer, younger body. Phoenix uses the cover story that these bodies are grown in a lab; in reality, the company is paying people in tragic circumstances to vacate them.
There are, accordingly, unpleasant side effects to the trade, including so-called “hallucinations” that are actually the scrambled memories of the body’s previous occupant tugging on the mind of its new tenant. A drug is supposed to hold these flashbacks at bay.
Logic having flown the coop by this point, Damian, in the body of handsome Mike (Ryan Reynolds), speedily picks up on these visions, and sets off for Mike’s former home in rural Missouri.
Damian’s long-neglected moral core is touched when he realizes that Mike sacrificed his life to pay for his daughter’s medical treatment.
Besides sketchy subplots intended to show the pervasive, controlling nature of the evil conglomerate, all that remains after this revelation are lengthy chase sequences fueled by Damian/Mike’s eagerness to dispatch pursuing bad guys.
The film contains frequent gunplay and other violence, a nongraphic bedroom scene with partial nudity, at least one use of profanity and occasional crude language. (A-III, PG-13).