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The age of excessive high-tech is a good time to be filthy rich, especially if you happen to be an entitled scoundrel whose level of wealth-fueled egomania makes Scrooge look like a benevolent fuddy-duddy. In “Self/Less,” Ben Kingsley as New York real estate mogul Damian is that scoundrel, and he pushes all the buttons that you would expect a mean SOB sitting on a mountain of cash to push.

No one loves Damian. Damian loves no one. His only family is an estranged daughter (Michelle Dockery) who wants nothing to do with him. He spends time relaxing (sort of, because Damian has too much cash to feel really comfortable) in an extraordinary glittering gold penthouse apartment — alone. One of the salient features of “Self/Less” is that Damian’s home actually belongs to Donald Trump (it’s in the credits) who apparently gave his OK for it to be used in a movie about an arrogant, self-obsessed guy who made his bajillions from NY real estate. Talk about a sense of self-irony. Trump must have the hide of a bullet-proof rhino or is completely delusional.

Being rich does not, however, mean being immortal and Damian learns he not only has cancer, but also has just a few months to live. Bummer. But wait — money can fix that. Damian contacts cool scientist Albright (Matthew Goode), who informs him that for an exorbitant fee — one that could probably feed the world’s poor for the next century — Damian’s mind can exit his sinking ship and inhabit a new “empty vessel.” That “vessel” turns out to be a young guy’s healthy body. Albright calls the process “shedding,” and it was invented, Damian is told, by the older, brilliant scientist Dr. Jensen (Thomas Francis Murphy), who inexplicably disappeared a while ago.

Self/Less (Self Less / Kakusei Shita Kioku)
Rating
Run Time 117 mins
Language English
Opens NOW SHOWING

Damian signs the paperwork, slides into an MRI-like apparatus and emerges with a toned, new body and the face of Ryan Reynolds.

What happens next is a predictable series of millionaire cliches. Damian (now Reynolds) lets rip and enjoys himself: cruisers, vacations and a stream of young women, all dying to tear off their clothes and dive into his bed. It’s all great, until he is troubled by hallucinations of what have the familiarity of memories but are of experiences he knows he never had. These visions show a young woman, a little girl and a house.

Disturbed and a little jaded by his new lifestyle, Damian decides to track down the source of these episodes and winds up stumbling on a few unsavory revelations. Albright isn’t the sincere man of science Damian pegged him to be, but is a body-snatching conman with zero regard for humanity; Jensen, he learns, was pretty reprehensible too, having ditched a wife with Alzheimer’s before going AWOL. To Damian’s horror, he realizes his new body was not an “empty” vessel, but belonged to a real-life family man named Mark.

Mark and his wife Madeline (Natalie Martinez) were a typically happy family until their little girl became ill and the couple couldn’t afford the medical bills. Opportunistic Albright stepped in and offered Mark a deal: turn over his healthy body to science and in return he would receive a hefty lump sum, enough to save his daughter and even pay for her college tuition fees later. Since none of this comes as a surprise (the plot twists are about as obvious as a delay alert in a stormy airport), Damian’s reaction to all this is bewildering. The ultimately selfish ice-cold man is suddenly willing to risk life and limb to protect Madeline and the daughter from Albright’s evil henchmen. The discrepancy is jarring, as is the accompanying sudden swerve onto action-movie turf.

The story never manages to convince us that Damian may be at times changing because of some residual sense of Mark, and it never defines the moment when Damian decides to become a decent human being. If only changing the mindset of the top one percent were that simple.

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