Mismatched Owen Wilson, Salma Hayek struggle in confusing sci-fi mess 'Bliss'

  • Crystals transport Greg (Owen Wilson), left, and Isabel (Salma Hayek) into an alternate universe paradise in "Bliss," streaming on Amazon Prime.

    Crystals transport Greg (Owen Wilson), left, and Isabel (Salma Hayek) into an alternate universe paradise in "Bliss," streaming on Amazon Prime. Courtesy of Amazon Studios

  • Greg (Owen Wilson), left, isn't sure what's real after meeting Isabel (Salma Hayek) in the science-fiction/psychological drama "Bliss," streaming on Amazon Prime.

    Greg (Owen Wilson), left, isn't sure what's real after meeting Isabel (Salma Hayek) in the science-fiction/psychological drama "Bliss," streaming on Amazon Prime. Courtesy of Amazon Studios

 
 
Posted2/4/2021 6:00 AM

"Bliss" - ★

Mike Cahill's ambitious science-fiction/psychological drama "Bliss" suffers from two extremely big drawbacks.

 

First, its convoluted, minutia-obsessed "Matrix-Lite" screenplay piles rules and complications upon rules and complications until you throw your simulated hands up in the air trying to keep everything straight.

Second, the main characters possess so little chemistry and sheer likability that they fail to inspire us to become invested in them, to care what happens to them, or to even be curious about why they do the things they do.

At first, the film's premise appears promising.

Owen Wilson stars as Greg, a disgruntled, recently divorced office lacky who slathers his hair tightly over his head and obsesses over the graduation of his daughter Emily (Nesta Cooper). On company time he draws sketches in his portfolio.

His boss asks him into his office.

"You're fired!" he says, sounding like the host of "The Apprentice."

Greg accidentally pushes him, and his boss hits his head on a desk. He dies.

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A fearful Greg flees the crime scene unseen, slipping into a bar.

There he runs into Isabel (Salma Hayek), a mysterious homeless woman who apparently possesses telekinetic powers. (She makes electric lights flicker!)

She knows what he did. Greg asks how she knows his name.

"I took it from your mind!" she replies.

Isabel proclaims them to be soul mates trapped in a massive computer simulation occupied by humans and spectral holograms.

She later teaches Greg that by taking certain crystal tablets, they can be transported into an alternate universe paradise where they can hang out on yachts, drink champagne and mix it up at parties with Chris (it's really Bill Nye the Science Guy).

Plus, they can use their telekinetic powers to sadistically entertain themselves by injuring people, even crushing them -- with the knowledge their victims aren't real, of course.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Sounds promising, right?

Not for long, as writer/director Cahill -- creator of acclaimed sci-fi features "Another Earth" and "I Origins" -- squanders the initial intrigue of "Bliss."

Through much of the film, Greg seems utterly and understandably confused. What is real? What is simulated?

Here's where a telepathic Cahill takes Greg's dialogue directly from our minds.

"What does this mean?" Greg rails.

"I get the feeling that you are making this up as you go along!"

Meanwhile, one of the movie's shoulda-been-a-surprise twists has been spoiled by the "Bliss" trailers. It will not be revealed here.

The biggest disappointment in "Bliss" stems from the unexpectedly bland pairing of Wilson and Hayek, both seasoned movie stars struggling to gain some dramatic traction on Cahill's narrative sci-fi quicksand.

• • •

Starring: Owen Wilson, Salma Hayek, Nesta Cooper, Bill Nye

Directed by: Mike Cahill

Other: An Amazon Studios release. On Amazon Prime. Rated R for language, drug use. 103 minutes

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