‘Self/Less’: Body switch leads to fascinating questions, tiresome action

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The ridiculousness in “Self/Less” starts with the exaggerated “Noo Yawk” accent Ben Kingsley employs as a ruthless business tycoon who delights in humiliating young rivals even as he’s in the final stages of cancer and has weeks to live.

We all know Sir Ben is a world-class actor. But this accent. Whoa.

Kingsley plays Damian (there’s an omen), a Manhattan kingpin who has immeasurable wealth (he lives in an opulent penthouse dripping with gold) — but the one thing he can’t buy is more time.

Or can he? Damian plunks down a cool $250 million to undergo a mysterious, revolutionary and creepy process known as “shedding,” in which his entire being — a lifetime of experiences and memories, all his personality traits, his very essence — will be transplanted into the body of a young, vital, healthy human being who happens to look exactly like Ryan Reynolds. Good deal!

The always interesting Matthew Goode plays Albright, the scientific genius behind the process. Albright has thick glasses and a British accent and a sinister smile. Spoiler alert: Keep your eye on this Albright character. He looks and sounds like the kind of guy who would deliver a long and condescending speech to James Bond before exiting the sealed chamber where Bond will surely die a slow and painful death.

As Albright explains to Damian, once the transformation into this lab-grown vessel is complete, Damian will assume a new identity and relocate and must never contact anyone from his past, including his estranged daughter (Michelle Dockery from “Downton Abbey”) and his best friend and longtime business partner (Victor Garber from everything).

Exit Sir Ben, enter Ryan Reynolds as Young Damian, who embarks on a new life in New Orleans that includes a fantastic townhouse (Old Damian stashed away millions before he “died”), fancy sports car and a montage in which he hits the clubs with his new best friend Anton (Derek Luke, excellent), parties like it’s 1999 and beds down a medley of women who will get billing along the lines of “Beautiful Girl #3” and “Dancer #1.” (Those are actual credits in the IMDB listing for “Self/Less.”)

It’s all pretty great, but if Young Damian doesn’t take his giant red pills on a regular basis, he’ll short-circuit. Seizures, bizarre “false memories,” flashbacks to a life he never had — but whose life is it?

“Self/Less” has echoes of better movies, from John Frankenheimer’s 1966 sci-fi thriller “Seconds” to “Total Recall” to “The Matrix” to the Jason Bourne films. Young Damian’s investigation into the weird flashbacks he’s having takes him to Natalie Martinez’ Madeline, a widowed mother with a young daughter, and soon they’re on the run and dodging bullets and fending off a small army of villains who want them all dead. Young Damian bonds with the little girl and gets a second chance at being a good father, though that would be little consolation to Michelle Dockery’s character back in New York, who believes her crusty old dad is dead without them ever reconciling.

Directed by Tarsem Singh, who is capable of delivering some astonishing visuals (see “The Cell”), this is a conventional-looking films with a screenplay from brothers David and Alex Pastor that raises some fascinating issues and offers a tease or two of a better movie before devolving into chases and shootouts.

Young Damian is surprised to learn he has Special Forces-level fighting skills. Anton turns out to be a whole lot more interesting than just a thunder buddy for Young Damian. For a guy who charges a quarter-billion dollars for every procedure, Albright has a rather flimsy front for his complex operation headquarters.

Along the way, the film stops asking questions about the nature of mortality and the lengths to which men will go to gain another 50 years of life. (We don’t see evidence of any women “shedding.”) Reynolds is a likable actor and a decent action hero; Martinez does her best playing a character who accepts some insane, mind-blowing explanations far too easily; Luke is terrific. But everyone sinks into the quagmire of mediocrity.

One other thing: Why does just about everyone in just about every kind of movie dream of a happily ever after on a remote tropical island with turquoise waters? Sure, that’s a great vacation, but after a few years, wouldn’t you be bored out of your mind?

[s3r star=2/4]

Gramercy Pictures presents a film directed by Tarsem Singh and written by David and Alex Pastor. Running time: 116 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of violence, some sexuality, and language). Opens Friday at local theaters.

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