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Hit or 'Bliss'

Alan Markfield

A Hand in Need: Psychobabbling sex therapist Terence Stamp (left) shows Craig Sheffer how to discover true 'Bliss' in his marriage.

Terence Stamp camps as sex therapist

By Richard von Busack

NO TRUE CONNOISSEUR of psychobabble can afford to miss Bliss, a dead-serious, tragically well-intentioned therapeutic drama. I've lived in Northern California for 20 years, and I still hadn't heard bonbons like this: "Most borderline [personalities] are incurable. They need to be totally reparented." Bliss tells the story of a frigid wife, Maria (Sheryl Lee), and her husband, Joseph (Craig Sheffer, one of the callowest juveniles since Dick Powell). On her own, Maria goes for sex therapy at the office of Baltazar (Terence Stamp). Baltazar is confronted by the understandably angry Joseph, who, in the film's lone horselaugh, insults him as "Dr. Fuck." Soon, however, Joseph is asking for sex tips. "Interesting," says Baltazar. "First you want to destroy me, and now you want to be my acolyte."

You may be thinking, If it walks like a quack, and sounds like a quack. ... But director/writer Lance Young portrays Stamp's sex-Yoda with the same awe that George Lucas lavished on the original item. (To clear his chakras, Joseph must hang upside down, a la Luke Skywalker in training.) Almost useless as either erotica or therapy, Bliss squanders Lee. As good as she is as a vengeful girl, she's still awfully soppy as a weeper. Stamp, however--oh, God, was I grateful for him. Not since Vincent Price has there been an actor who has had to keep his chin set and his mouth firm in the path of such moaning hurricanes of balderdash. Unlike the rest of the cast--especially Spalding Gray--Stamp knows what he's sunk into. Bask in the slow smile he delivers after informing Sheffer that masturbation is the answer--"If you can't make love to yourself? [Beat. Another beat. Yet another beat.] How can you make love to anyone else?" With lizardlike flicks of his imperturbable face, Stamp sends an SOS to the audience. The old fraud sports a noble mane of white hair now and has, I hope, many comfy years of playing mad doctors, world dominators and serial killers ahead of him.

Bliss (R; 103 min.), directed and written by Lance Young, photographed by Mike Molloy and starring Sheryl Lee, Craig Sheffer and Terence Stamp.

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From the June 26-July 2, 1997 issue of Metro.

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