‘I don’t know how I’ll ever remember all this,’ says Greg (Owen Wilson) as he contemplates the weird amalgam of sci-fi, comedy and romance that is Mike Cahill’s Bliss, which pairs Wilson with Salma Hayek. The lustre of these stars may have faded, but not the goodwill, and it’s intriguing to see Wilson and Hayek working with Cahill, who has two excellent sci-fi movies to his name with his Britt Marling collaborations Another Earth and I Origins. Unfortunately, it’s third time unlucky, because Bliss isn’t as coherent as either of these other films, but at least does have ambition to burn.
Greg (Wilson) is an office-bound executive who gets fired from his job; in the process of Greg leaving, his manager dies and Greg leaves his corpse propped up against an upstairs window. Imagining that he’ll be tried for murder, Greg escapes to a dive-bar across the road where he meets up with Isabel (Hayek), an oddball character who is peddling a crystal-meth drug that reveals a new level of reality to the user. Despite Greg’s misgivings, he takes the drug and discovers not only super-powers in our reality, but a second tier universe in which Greg and Isabel are resident brain-boxes in an other-worldly community.
So, which world is real, and which is the simulation? By the end of Bliss, it’s hard to care, since neither world has much to engage. The problems start with the characterisations; Greg is divorcing, and trying to find time to attend his daughter’s graduation (cliché alert), but even with super-powers, he’s still something of a dead-beat dad. Isabel is a homeless vagrant who lives on the streets by design; her druggie lifestyle isn’t that convincing given that Hayek just looks like she’s in a slightly more glamorous commercial depending on which reality she’s in. And so we flip with our couple back and forward, but the CGI tricks become tiresome without anything involving to hang them on.
Cahill is clearly a talent, but fans would be better off re-watching the first two films. With echoes of The Matrix and various other body-swap, VR fantasies (the laughable Serenity for one), Bliss wants to be a mind-bender, but flunks the test on lack of engagement; while individual scenes like a vindictive roller-skating derby please, the mix doesn’t gel, and Amazon have a highly undisciplined, chaotic movie to market on their streaming service. It looks bright and expensive, and maybe that’s enough for a pick-up for a captive lockdown audience, but Bliss won’t leave you with much positive to remember in the morning.
Bliss is out on Amazon Prime in the UK on Friday 5th Feb 2021.