‘Bliss’ Review: A High Concept, Under-Designed

Greg (Owen Wilson) begins the science-fiction film “Bliss” at the end of his rope. He’s in the middle of a divorce and has just been fired from his job when he meets a mysterious woman at a bar. Her name is Isabel (Salma Hayek), and with a wave of her wrist, she shows Greg that she has a telekinetic ability to manipulate reality.

Isabel promises a bewildered Greg that the world he believes to be real is a simulation. They are the only real people among fakes.

“Bliss” doesn’t try to poke holes in Isabel’s reality-altering claims; it’s plain that Isabel’s powers have material effects. She shows Greg how to light fire at a distance, how to crumple a car with his mind — and the writer and director Mike Cahill creates practical effects that look real enough to confirm Isabel’s story.

Cahill previously explored the idea of multiple universes in his film, “Another Earth,” but in this movie, he flounders with creating a sensory experience to match the story’s cerebral ideas. Greg and Isabel gallivant around a dingy, dark Los Angeles and entertain dreams of the better, cleaner, realer world that lies outside the simulation. But when Cahill gets a chance to show the audience what that true home might look like, it’s as color-corrected, underlit and under-designed as the reality they abandoned.

There may be a way to justify the shoddiness of the movie’s images with a high-concept explanation — maybe it’s intentional that no matter what reality Greg and Isabel occupy, it looks grubby, flimsy and fake. But “Bliss” fails to engage the senses, resulting in cinematic disappointment.

Bliss
Rated R for drug use as a metaphor, language and brief sexual content. Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes. Watch on Amazon.

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