A Little Suspense Movie with a Terrific Cast

Basically a rewrite of the 1966 John Frakenheimer horror masterpiece Seconds, but with a happy ending, Self/Less lacks the courage of the original film’s convictions, but somehow still works as a little suspense movie with a terrific cast. Even hammy Ben Kingsley is precise and smarmy in the story of an old plutocrat—an architect not unlike Robert Moses—who learns of a hush-hush company that promises to extend your life by transferring your brain into a new body they claim to have cloned. When Kingsley wakes up in Ryan Reynolds’s body, he quickly learns the side effects, deep guilt and your basic movie moralisms against cheating Mother Nature and intruding in God’s laboratory.

In Frankenheimer’s hands, this was a story of existential dread compounded by a heartless system at work grinding out heartless money. It was also augmented into even creepier territory by the great cinematographer James Wong Howe. You might imagine if anyone could recapture a gloriously excessive visual style, it would be Tarsem (The Fall) Singh, a director specializing in stylish exotica. But this is a remake as action film and ends up owing more to John Woo’s Hard Target than to anything from 1960s Hollywood.

It’s satisfying, not great. Someday some professor will pass judgment on this vision of American capitalism compared to the more paranoid and pessimistic one Frankenheimer set down just months before the Summer of Love dawned. The original has footage of a Mountain Drive nude grape stomp; this one has Reynolds saying, “It has that new body smell.”

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