Amazon’s current catalogue has earned plenty of praise this week at the Golden Globes and deservedly so. It does however, make it absolutely baffling how a film like Bliss – one of their recent titles – got the go ahead. Riddled with issues from top to bottom, it could be first in line to being one of the worst films of the year so far.
Black Mirror collides with The Good Place and pales in comparison to both with Amazon’s latest dark future film of a world beyond our own that you’ll regret ever visiting. Owen Wilson is divorced desk jockey, who’s as bad a father as he is an employee of ‘Technical Difficulties’, the generic company that he’s somehow earned his own office in, but clearly deserves to be fired from. However, quicker than you can say, “well that escalated” and our broken cog in the machine has his eyes opened by mad, crystal-rattling stranger Isabelle, played by Salma Hayek. No sooner after spotting him in a bar does she save him from a manslaughter charge, pulls back the curtain to reveal the simulation he’s in, and teaches him to do stuff in the first twenty minutes what took Neo almost two hours and a bullet-dodging gunfight to figure out.
Naturally as it often does, folks meddling with powers beyond their comprehension leads things to go a bit sideways, leaving Greg (Wilson), struggling to settle on what’s real and what’s not. Can he decide on what world to stay in? Will this push him into finally being a good father? All these questions are of minimum concern due to the drab and convoluted calamity Bliss finds itself becoming.
On first glance there’s certainly a compelling premise that has been handled time and time again just right, but here it’s quickly apparent that this is not one of those times. There isn’t a single likeable character from the get-go with most of the issues falling at the feet of the film’s main leads. Owen Wilson and Selma Hayek have as much chemistry as a tin of paint and a set of pan pipes. The two feel like they’ve both knocked back one of Bliss’ coveted reality-bending crystals in different films and stumbled into this one. Hayek is going hell-for-leather as the meddling scientist who has gone too far, while Wilson struggles to sell a ‘wow’ as his love from another world bends this one to her will. There’s not a single dimension where they build a spark and the pairing is frankly baffling, which coincidentally is the same response to the overall plot, as well.
While writer/director Mike Cahill has a history with dabbling in science fiction, here it feels like a flat hopeless endeavour. Not even Bill Nye the Science Guy rocking up with a cameo can explain what is actually happening, simply because the rulebook is being frantically filled in as the story goes along. There’s never a moment where we take a breath and Hayek’s Isabel lays it all clearly down for us so we can stay up to speed. Instead, she’s frantically running from scene to scene with Wilson’s dumbfounded deadbeat Dad trailing behind her. As a result, there are no stakes, no threats of what playing around in this supposed facade might actually do. Which in turn, simply urges you to control your own world and press the ‘BACK’ button as soon as possible.
If there’s really any credit, it may fall on some of the visuals that are at play when there’s a glitch in this Faketrix. When Wilson breaks from his dull-lit world and ends up at in a sunlit getaway, it’s comparatively refreshing to say, someone opening the blinds. And on the occasions when he does lose his grip on the world, the audio is tweaked to amplify the disorientation, which isn’t necessary given that the film does that all on it’s own. There’s also a number of transparent extras that appear to still be ‘plugged in’ but are more of a visual representation of how you’ll be feeling. Just barely there, but waiting for it all to end, and even then it can’t decide how to. In the pantheon of reality-altering sci-fi entries, you’d be better remaining blissfully unaware of this one’s existence.
Bliss is available on Amazon Prime Video from 5 February 2021.