In Half-Baked Sci-Fi ‘Bliss,’ Salma Hayek and Owen Wilson Tap Into an Alternate Reality
Salma Hayek becomes Owen Wilson’s unlikely guide through an alternate reality in Amazon’s trippy sci-fi “Bliss.” Wilson stars as Greg, a recently-divorced dad working a thankless office job. Because much of his time is spent daydreaming, drawing pictures of his dream life, and popping pills, it comes as no surprise when he is fired early on. However, in a twist, he accidentally kills his boss, causing him to flee the building and take refuge in a bar across the street, where he immediately attracts the attention of Isabel (Hayek), a homeless woman who seems to possess special powers.
“Bliss” gets off to a promising start, and those early scenes involving the accidental death are filled with dark humor, especially when Isabel uses his powers to make it look like a suicide. Still afraid of being arrested, Greg flees with Isabel, gallivanting around the Los Angeles underworld and doing drugs. Isabel not only declares that she and Greg are soulmates, but also that they’re living in a computer simulation. She explains that they are one of the few real people, and that everyone else they come in contact with is part of the simulation. Soon, she teaches him to harness the power of his mind to move objects and people. In one memorable scene, they knock down a bunch of skaters at a rink, but it’s all in good fun since none of them are “real.”
The plot really goes off the rails once they cross over into the “real world,” an island paradise where Greg and Isabel are a power couple in the world of science. There, Greg is shocked to see that the sketches he drew have come to life. There’s a lot going on in these scenes, including a cameo from Bill Nye and plenty of eye candy. But this new high can only last for so long before something goes wrong.
The emotional core of the story, if there is one, is Greg’s relationship with his daughter, Emily (Nesta Cooper), a recent high school grad. While Greg’s son, Arthur (Jorge Lendenborg Jr.), has reached the end of his rope with his father, Emily still believes in him, and is disturbed by reports of him panhandling around his old office. She goes searching for him, and even teleports herself into the other world. While Isabel tries to convince him that his daughter isn’t real, just part of the simulation, Greg cannot help but feel a pull to his old life. While Wilson and Hayek are lacking in the chemistry department, the actor manages to pull on our heartstrings just a little bit in his scenes with Cooper.
Overall, “Bliss” is a messy film, and writer-director Mike Cahill seems to have been too preoccupied with creating the world of the story that he didn’t get around to writing a cohesive plot. Although the plot finally feels somewhat coherent when Greg is faced with an inevitable choice, the ending seems rather hurried, and the viewer is left with plenty of questions. There seems to be some sort of message buried in there about the dangers of drugs and how money, fame, luxury, etc. cannot bring happiness, but Cahill fails to deliver anything truly meaningful.
“Bliss” begins streaming Feb. 5 on Amazon Prime Video.