By Kurt Jensen
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — 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 — headed by its amoral CEO, Dr. Albright (Matthew Goode) — will transfer a client’s consciousness into a handsomer, younger body. Though Phoenix uses the cover story that these bodies are grown in a lab, the company is, in reality, 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 physique’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. There he reconnects, so to speak, with wife Madeline (Natalie Martinez) and cancer-stricken daughter Anna (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen).
Damian’s long-neglected moral core is touched when he realizes that Mike sacrificed his life to pay for Anna’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. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.