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Watch This Review

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Movie Review

You can't take it with you, they say. And that frosts Damian Hale something awful.

Damian could take plenty, if he had the chance. This real estate tycoon helped turn New York City into a bustling kingdom of gleaming business towers and billion-dollar apartment buildings. For decades, he's loomed above Manhattan like a deep-pocketed colossus, watching the city he built from his gilded penthouse. But alas, the man's time is running out. Cancer riddles his body like unwanted squatters, damaging the infrastructure and lowering its property value. Damian estimates his derelict structure will be unlivable in about six months, tops. After that, he'll need to vacate. Permanently.

But an upstart business, Phoenix BioGenetic, offers Damian a tantalizing alternative. Instead of moving out and moving on, why doesn’t he just trade up? Abandon his old, worn-out body and move into a new model?

Dr. Albright, head of Phoenix, promises the body will indeed be new—a lab-grown vessel for Damian's consciousness. He sells the operation as a way to give "humanity's greatest minds more time to fulfill their potential." Thankfully for Albright, those great minds come with great wealth: The procedure isn't cheap, after all. "Shedding" an old body for a new one is a fairly intricate procedure.

The operation comes with some conditions, too: Damian can't just show up at a real estate closing in what appears to be a 30-year-old body. Albright's technology is so bleeding edge that it's not exactly … legal. Damian will need to get his affairs in order and start over again—though admittedly, with a mountain of cash that Old Damian will set aside for his new self.

For Damian, the extra time is worth the drawbacks. He accepts Albright's conditions, fakes his own death and is whisked away to Phoenix's super-secret facility, where his mind is transferred into his pristine new body.

But once inside, Damian notices that one arm bears an odd scar, as if a tattoo was removed there. Sometimes he sees things that have no bearing on his own swanky, citified experience—waking dreams filled with blurred images of rolling farmland, wars in sand-choked cities, a very sick little girl.

Albright assures Damian that these images are merely hallucinations—a common aftereffect when someone trades their old skin for a new one. Just as the body tries to reject a new heart transplant, so it tries to reject a new mind. "Death has some side effects," Albright says, telling Damian the bright red pills he takes every day should keep the hallucinations at bay. Eventually, the doctor promises, they'll go away altogether.

But the images are so real, so vivid. And Damian begins to wonder whether his second body—the "empty vessel" Albright suggested it was—might be more like a fixer-upper than new construction.


Positive Elements

Damian is indeed inhabiting a "used" body, one that was once possessed by a soldier and family man who traded his own life for that of his very sick daughter, Anna. She desperately needed an operation, and the soldier, named Mark, figured the only way she would get it was by making a deal with Albright's group, giving up his life for hers. If someone else can put his body to use, fine: Mark just wanted his little girl to be healthy.

But Damian never wanted to take someone else's body. Granted, what Albright offered was weird, perhaps even unethical. But Damian never would have signed up had he known he was evicting the rightful tenant. Phoenix is actually in the murder business, even if it's done with the consent of the victim. And when he accidentally puts Mark's wife and daughter at risk—exposing them to Phoenix's terminal mop-up operations—he spends the rest of the movie doing his best to protect them.

[Spoiler Warning] Of course, there's still the matter of Damian's new body to deal with. Mark's consciousness is still wandering around inside, too. Damian has been warned that without the pills, Damian will diminish and, eventually, blip out of existence. Damian could keep the body, of course. He paid good money for it (and after all, possession is nine-tenths of the law). But the tycoon eventually does the right thing, allowing Mark to reclaim his body and reunite with his wife and child. It is, as suggested by the movie's title, a remarkably selfless act.

Spiritual Content

Neither Damian nor the movie itself ever express any hope for an afterlife. Once Damian's done, he's done for good. The only hope one has for new life, the movie says, is through the process of shedding. That said, we do see, briefly, a funeral presided over by a priest.

Sexual Content

Once Damian takes possession of his new, fully functioning body, he wastes little time putting it through its paces. That includes sexual encounters with a number of women.

The film focuses most on tryst with a new acquaintance in which clothes are hastily removed (we see a woman's bare back from behind). "I haven't seen anything like that in about 52 years," Damian says, which she naturally takes as a joke. She's the first in a parade of female partners whom Damian takes home and apparently sleeps with. In a tawdry montage, we see him passionately kissing several of them; women are shown wrapping their legs around his middle.

Mark's wife, Maddie, and Mark's body share some affectionate moments. They kiss and embrace a few times, and at one point Maddie presses her head against his chest—content to listen to Mark's lungs and heart at work even if Mark himself seemingly isn't around.

Violent Content

When Albright realizes that Damian may be out of his control, he takes serious, lethal steps to protect his business. But Damian's new body (which is that, you recall, of a soldier) recalls some old tricks of its own. The result gives Self/less a Bourne Identity sense of mayhem.

Damian gets into serious brawls with Phoenix's thugs, leading to their injury and, often, death. He breaks a man's neck. He snaps the arm of another before slamming his head into a toilet, breaking the bowl. He guns down several ne'er-do-wells, and two are dispatched via flame thrower. A car crash kills at least one bad guy, while another is severely injured. (We see his bloodied face resting against the steering wheel, eyes open and head jerking.) People are punched and kicked. Damian tries to dispatch one evildoer with a leg-induced chokehold. A home is torched. Cars explode.

Maddie and Anna are present for many of these horrific killings; Maddie covers her daughter's eyes, protecting her from the worst of the violence. (And truth be told, the movie occasionally does the same here, with the camera looking away from what are presumably the bloodiest and goriest deaths.)

Damian suffers wounds along the way, too. His shirt collar is bloodied and his face is eventually covered with cuts. And, of course, we sort of see him "die." When he's sick, old Damian coughs blood up. Albright says suicidal thoughts are not unusual when undergoing a shedding procedure. We hear a reference to being kicked in the testicles.

Crude or Profane Language

About eight s-words are uttered along with a smattering of other profanities, including "a--," "b--ch," "b--tard," "d--n" and "h---." God's name is misused four times (twice paired with "d--n"), and Jesus' name is abused three times.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Characters drink wine, whiskey and champagne. Damian takes medication to keep his "hallucinations" at bay. He drinks poisoned coffee and is given a shot that, he's told, will make his heart stop beating. We see a doctor toting cancer-related pharmaceuticals. Maddie is drugged.

Other Negative Elements

After getting zapped into his new body, Damian vomits. He pretends to retch again to take a dastardly henchman off guard.


Self/less is a lot like its evil biogenetic company, Phoenix: It makes lofty promises, but its execution is lacking. So what begins as a taut, thoughtful sci-fi thriller turns into just another overlong fistfight.

Granted, it's not as bad as it could be. Lots of people die, but not in outrageously grotesque ways. Damian sleeps around, but most of the movie's sexuality is sequestered into a short-but-telling montage. And then there's this: While Damian enjoys his newfound youth in some shallow, salacious ways, the movie stresses that's not where happiness—true happiness—is found.

Albright would've loved it had Damian chosen to spend the rest of his days sleeping with strange women and enjoying the perks of his overwhelming wealth. But Damian couldn't do that: Life, he knows, is about more than outsized pleasure romps. True happiness is found in the sorts of things that money can't buy: love and family and belonging. For all his wealth, Damian realizes his greatest treasure is his daughter—a woman he rarely speaks with anymore.

And when he's given a chance to meet Mark's lovely family, Damian tentatively draws them close to him. Though he admits he was a horrible father the first time 'round, he teaches Anna how to swim. He soaks up her hugs. He relishes this second shot at being a daddy—even temporarily, even in the midst of less-than-ideal circumstances.

Where Self/less goes wrong is in not exploring those positives with much depth. It seems to skip over its central premise—the very real ethical quandary of what to do with someone else's body when you really, really need it—almost perfunctorily. It feels almost as if the creative team behind Self/less lost faith in whatever story they were hoping to tell. Instead, they resorted to time-honored fisticuffs to please an undemanding audience.

Self/less is exactly the movie you might expect, given its rating, its star and its summertime release: a crude, violent, intriguing popcorn flick. Too bad a better movie got lost along the way.

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