There is some epically bad acting in this silly and tiresome sci-fi fantasy-mystery from writer-director Mike Cahill, whose renowned debut Another Earth in 2011 left me sceptical, yet intrigued. But this is a conceited mess, which almost from the very first frame tips you off that we are heading for some version of the time-honoured cheat/twist ending that has – admittedly – been with cinema since its earliest days and attracted some of the biggest directorial names.
Owen Wilson plays Greg, a stressed and ill-looking guy who is working in a call centre firm called Technical Difficulties, the job being to help people on the phone with their problems. He has a corner office, so is presumably a big cheese. But Greg is slacking off, more concerned with doodling some dream city of his own imagination. He also has a strained relationship with his grownup daughter Emily (Nesta Cooper), who is about to graduate from college. Greg is estranged from Emily’s mother and talks about having “messed up”. But after a calamitous confrontation with his boss, he winds up in a scuzzy bar where he meets a Manic Pixie Grownup Tramp Woman called Isabel, played with unbearably peculiar mannerisms by Salma Hayek. Isabel red-pills Greg about the false nature of the universe: it’s all a digitally created illusion apparently – digitally created by Isabel, in fact – and now Greg is going to discover the truth, just as he is in full, traumatised retreat from the emotional pain in his personal life.
Every syllable of action, as we grind towards the broadly guessable finish, is jeopardy-free and interest-free. Wilson looks as if he thinking about something else: the halting sing-song rhythms of his voice sound vapid, and Hayek is trilling, whooping and smirking away in a world of her own.
• Released on 5 February on Amazon Prime Video.