Despite the sort of industry-disrupting deep pockets that keep old-line studio execs awake at night, Netflix’s batting average when it comes to original movies has been embarrassingly low. Of course, that may not matter much to stockholders. But for film lovers forking over $10.99 a month, The Cloverfield Paradox, Bright, and the latter works of Adam Sandler aren’t going to cut it forever.
Still, there was reason to think that things might turn around with the company’s latest production, Mute. After all, it was directed by Duncan Jones, the promising talent behind 2009’s sci-fi headtrip Moon; it stars Alexander Skarsgård; and early trailers made it look like a neon-noir cross between Blade Runner and The Fifth Element. Sadly, it’s just another airless dud in red packaging.
Skarsgård plays Leo, a gentle giant in a buzzcut and a suit two sizes too small, who lost the ability to speak in a childhood accident. Since his parents were devoutly Amish, they refused to allow him to be operated on. Now Leo lives in a Berlin of the future, replete with floating cars, Ginza district lights, and a polyglot population of gangsters who look like they walked out of a Duran Duran video sometime during the Seven and the Ragged Tiger era. There’s also Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux as a pair of wisecracking surgeons who extract bullets from shot-up mafiosos and whose only direction seemed to be: Act just like Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland in M*A*S*H. The daffy duo seems to be in a totally different movie from everyone else on screen. And both movies are dull.
Leo has a girlfriend with electric blue hair and a dark past named Naadirah (Deutschland 86’s Seyneb Saleh). And that past leads her to go missing. So Leo switches into private eye mode and broodingly marches along the night streets that lead into one dead after another, occasionally bashing in the head of some goon who’s either a sadist or a sex freak. In a way, he’s a classic film noir hero — emotionally beat up, physically bruised, and on a one-way road to oblivion chasing after a woman.
The one thing Mute has going for it is Jones’ vividly imaginative sense of world-building. Like Ridley Scott with Blade Runner, he fills every corner of the screen with something cool to look at. And the fact that the director, who happens to be the son of David Bowie, decided to set the film in a future-shock Berlin (where Bowie lived while recording his most seminal albums in the late ‘70s) no doubt has a personal resonance for him so soon after his father’s death. But you get the feeling that Jones spent so much time conjuring his movie’s groovy universe that he was all tapped out of ideas when it came time to write a tale worthy of it. C