IF KAFKA had written "It's a Wonderful Life," it would have looked like "Bliss," a grotesque domestic nightmare full of graphic fantasy and palmetto bugs.
This Australian black comedy concerns the out-of-pajama experience and resulting metamorphosis of one Harry Joy, an ordinary advertising executive who goes out of his body during a heart attack and shortly thereafter goes out of his mind. Following painful open-heart surgery, he has an affair with a hippie beekeeper named Honey Barbara and is transformed from a grey-flannel carcinogen-pusher to an Outback flower child.
Barry Otto, an Australian theatrical actor, stars as the executive in transition, an amiable rat-racer who is being cuckolded by his wife and business partner, and taken for granted by his drug-abusing, incestuous kids. Before his trip beyond the pale, he didn't notice. Now he thinks he has died and gone to hell.
Goodness but it's a complicated, metaphoric lot of self-indulgent hogwash. And these off-the-wall folks are the sort that only Monty Python could love.
Ray Lawrence, a director of television commercials, makes his feature debut with this busy, derivative screenplay, which he co-wrote with Peter Carey, author of the best-selling "Bliss" book. The movie, which has its visual strengths, won three Australian Oscars for best film, best director and best screenplay, but competition must have been slim, or the Australian mood dim.
"Bliss" has the creepy feel of that American heart-attack classic "All That Jazz" -- with the same blood-and-guts imagery, the same sexual intensity, and maybe even the same surgeon. "Bliss," which outgrossed "Rambo" at Aussie box offices, is out of sync over here, concerning itself with saccharine and false advertising at a time when most Americans have given up on outrage as an art form, and chief executives have become folk heroes.
The movie reflects superficially on death and dying, prescribing marijuana, herb tea and good karma instead of anything enlightening. It tackles urban angst, curing alienation with the naive notion of running off to the bush to avoid cancer and pollution.
So, if you're going to Sydney, be sure to wear a flower in your hair.
BLISS (R) -- At area theaters.