[13 October 2008]
My Own Worst Enemy looks like it’s been assembled from the leftovers of other pop-culture heavyweights. Christian Slater plays two personalities, Edward and Henry (catch the Jekyll and Hyde reference?), who are duking it out over the same body (sort of like Fight Club). Edward is the cold-blooded, badass operative you always imagined Christian Slater would grow up to be. When he’s not “active,” the powers that be back at headquarters use a Minority Report-style computer to put him to “sleep,” and they wake up Henry, a lab-created nice guy—devoted husband, father of two—who thinks he works as an “efficiency expert.” His lost time is filled in by fabricated memories.
At the beginning of the series premiere, airing 13 October, this relationship between selves begins to sour. Henry retains some of Edward’s memories, and the implanted ones don’t stick. Slowly, he figures out his strange relationship to Edward, and yet he can’t stop the cycling between personalities. Oh yes, and there are Russian assassins waiting to intercept him on the way to his son’s soccer game.
At first you might thinkMy Own Worst Enemy, like Fight Club, will explore the dueling natures in every man’s heart. But their conflict plays more like sibling rivalry. When Henry walks around Edward’s secret apartment, playing his piano and trying on some of his suits, he’s dismissive: “What a dick.” Edward responds to the intrusion by leaving a note, scrawled on his own hand with a Sharpie: “Don’t touch my car, ever.” And then he sleeps with Henry’s wife.
Though they may be antagonists forever, there really is no contest. Henry, the made-up personality, was created “19 years ago” and until now has been clueless as to his origins. A naïve suburbanite, he’s so meek that he starts at the popping of a champagne cork. And he’s awfully slow to recognize that something is odd about his life. While his faux job requires him to travel to numerous boring conferences, he also has mandatory psychiatric counseling (with a sexy psychologist played by Saffron Burrows). It’s a little hard to swallow: why would Henry never wonder about his schedule?
Henry has no chance against the charismatic Edward, who has the advantage of knowing about Henry from the outset. Edward’s stronger personality pops through even when Henry is supposedly in control. When at last he recognizes Edward’s existence (shouting, “Roses are red, violets are blue; I’m a split personality and so am I!”, he sounds like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, someone to whom Slater has been compared more than once).
Edward’s sharpness is drawn more plainly from Slater’s own history. After seeing him in his famously creepy roles, like Heathers’ J.D., or even the semi-heroic smart-ass “Hard Harry” in Pump Up the Volume, it’s easier to believe him as the fast-car-driving, self-cuckolding secret agent than the unconscious milquetoast.
Luckily, Henry’s recognition of Edward seems just the beginning of the conflicts in My Own Worst Enemy. Stylishly shot, with a twisted timeline, the premiere promises more secrets will be revealed. Unsurprisingly, the upcoming trouble looks to be a function of Edward’s mischievous self-interest. “Edward’s different,” boss Mavis Heller (Alfre Woodard) says. “He keeps secrets.”
And so he does. As the premiere comes to an end, Edward and Henry look to be teaming up against the government agency that set them at odds in the first place. Given the choice to have his memory wiped, ridding himself of Edward forever and living on as the plain suburban dad, Henry says, “I want my life to be real.” “You’ll think it’s real,” an operative responds. The exchange suggests that My Own Worst Enemy means to explore the ways “official stories” can twist reality and encourage faith in fantasy. Edward and Henry will be both Bosley and the Angels, trying to expose this corruption. Let’s hope Henry can keep up.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/my-own-worst-enemy/