Writer-director Duncan Jones showed some decent science fictional chops in his movies Moon and Source Code, but his new film Mute (2018)—a passion project given life by Netflix’s headlong pursuit of original content—is a peculiar entry in his canon. Set in a gritty, cyberpunkish Berlin, Mute presents a vivid vision of the future, but unfortunately the narrative doesn’t really require any futurism.
Alexander Skarsgård stars as Leo, whose devout Amish parents refused to allow a surgery to repair his damaged larynx after a childhood accident renders him mute. Now an adult, Leo works as a bartender in a nightclub with his girlfriend Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh). When Naadirah mysteriously disappears, Leo embarks on a precarious investigation that entangles him with organized criminals, including skeazy former U.S. Army surgeons Cactus (Paul Rudd) and Duck (Justin Theroux).
Mute’s narrative is relatively engaging, a multi-threaded mystery that winds through grimy future streets, providing plenty of skiffy eyeball kicks. Skarsgård does well with his dialogue-free hero, while Rudd and Theroux provide unique villainy, bringing two irredeemable scumbags to slippery, pseudo-charming life. But something’s missing, especially in the theme department; beyond its noir trappings and nice characterizations, there isn’t much to it. Even worse, the science fictional elements, with the exception of some minor geopolitical worldbuilding, do very little to influence the story. There’s a promising concept here: a technologically inept Amish man must navigate a techno-saturated future to save the love of his life. But there’s no reason that story needed to take place on the set of Blade Runner; it could easily happen in 2018, which gives Mute the awkward reek of fake science fiction. Anyway, not entirely worthless as a diversion, particularly for the deftly despicable theatrics of Rudd and Theroux, but as a work of SF I found it a major disappointment, especially considering Jones’ pedigree.