Monday, September 19, 2016

Ryan Reynolds is out of his mind


Some of my favorite themed double features are the ones that materialize organically, as they are occurring.

Take Saturday night. I threw in Criminal, a movie whose generic title likely would have kept me far away from it if I hadn't caught a trailer for it before another movie I recently rented. It looked a lot more high concept than the title suggested, and the cast is just oozing with stars (not all of whom are still in their prime, but they're better than a straight-to-video cast). And it is a lot more high concept, though I suppose it's ultimately a bit hamstrung by its execution.

As I was watching it, I realized it had something in common with another movie I hadn't seen but had meant to, which was available on one of my streaming services. And as I was starting Criminal at about 8 (with my wife still sick in bed and not a factor in our viewing decisions), I did indeed have time to make it a double feature. That second movie was Tarsem Singh's Self/less, a flop that came out last year.

So what do these films have in common? Let me tell you. But there may be some spoilers if you really care. If the Rotten Tomatoes scores are any indication, you don't.

Both films involve an experimental transfer of memories/personality from one dead or dying subject to another live vessel, executed with lots of wires, tubes, rays, electrodes, mesh facial nets and hospital gurneys lined up side by side.

In both films, the subject who receives the transplant gets flashes of the life of the previous subject, either via implanted memories or attempts of the old personality to take control back of the flesh-and-blood body.

But here's the big one:

In both films, Ryan Reynolds is one of the guys.

In Criminal, he's a CIA agent who is killed while trying to broker a deal involving one of those gadgets that can remotely control missile systems -- you know, the MacGuffin that appears in every movie like this. Because he possesses a lot of classified information in that noggin of his, not to mention information that no one else knows, his CIA boss (a raving Gary Oldman) connects up his dead flesh with an experimental procedure pioneered by a Craggy Old Dude (Tommy Lee Jones) that will allow the transfer of his memories to take place. Those memories get put in Kevin Costner, a psychopath who qualifies as a subject because of a rare frontal lobe injury he suffered as a child (which also contributes to his psychopathy). So as Costner goes about (mostly on the loose because the CIA keeps allowing him to escape because they unwisely think they don't need him anymore and leave him in the hands of incompetent agents), he keeps getting flashes of Reynolds' memory, as well as his moral perspective, which allows this "criminal" to start distinguishing right from wrong.

Needless to say, Reynolds himself drops out of the movie pretty quickly, only seen in a mirror once (and in photographs on mantles) after the opening. In Self/less, he's the Costner, and it's Ben Kingsley who disappears. Kingsley plays a Donald Trump type (I wouldn't be surprised if the character was actually modeled after Trump) who has terminal cancer, and Walt Disney-style, wants to give himself life beyond the death of his body. He learns about a secret organization that will transfer his consciousness to a new body of a younger adult male they grew in a test tube. (It's a bit like the John Frankenheimer-directed Rock Hudson movie Seconds, if you've seen that.) Kingsley is given the new identity of Ryan Reynolds, which is a good body if you want to get back out and start banging babes again (which he does). However, he soon realizes by not taking the red pills he's supposed to take every day that he's remembering the life of the body's previous occupant. Not only was this guy not grown in a lab, but he may have had a family who thinks he died under tragic circumstance. As he has regrets about his own behavior toward a distant daughter, Kingsley's brain grows a conscience in time to try to help Reynolds' body get back to his family. He's a bit like Costner in that way, I guess.

It was quite funny to watch these two movies back to back. I almost imagined a Ryan Reynolds-shaped mobius strip of death and life and rebirth and death again that would run through these two movies.

Oddly, I actually sort of liked both movies, while recognizing that they are both sort of failures. Tarsem Singh, who I just wrote about a week ago, does have at least one moment where he applies what I would consider to be a "Tarsem touch." It's not ornate costuming or anything of that nature -- though the Trump-like penthouse Kingsley lives in is pretty ornate -- but it's a sharply edited montage that documents the billionaire's first few weeks/months in Reynolds' body. I'd almost say it's worth watching the movie for that reason alone, though I probably wouldn't -- both because there are some other good things (a few, anyway) and becaue it's probably not really good enough if you weren't planning to watch the movie anyway.

As for Criminal, well ... it commits pretty well to its premise. It's shot pretty well and makes reasonably effective use of its actors. I'm kind of enjoying late-stage Kevin Costner, kind of in spite of myself. Though really ... if the CIA made one more dumb decision related to his character, I was going to climb into my TV and slap Gary Oldman.

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