Netflix-exclusive passion project “Mute” is a generic, lifeless disappointment

Rating: 1/5 Brain Cells

When an acclaimed filmmaker announces a new project, viewers anticipate a film that lives up to the director’s previous efforts. Unfortunately, director Duncan Jones’ Netflix-exclusive passion project “Mute” is a lifeless, blatantly sexist and utterly generic rip-off of Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner.”

“Mute” takes place in a futuristic version of Berlin, where flying automobiles roar through a grimy, neon-lit cityscape. Leo, played by Alexander Skarsgård, is a mute bartender who works in an adult entertainment lounge with his girlfriend Naadirah, played by Seyneb Saleh. Their love is passionate, but Naadirah keeps secrets from Leo. When Naadirah goes missing, Leo embarks on a journey through Berlin’s criminal underbelly to find her. He eventually encounters eccentric black market surgeons Cactus Bill and Duck, played by Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux, respectively.

With the near-endless stream of cyberpunk movies releasing in theaters nowadays, it’s to be expected that one of them will turn out to be pretentious garbage. “Mute” is a prime example of this, paling in comparison to films such as 2017’s “Blade Runner 2049.”

What made “Blade Runner 2049” an all-out masterpiece was its combination of philosophical themes and atmospheric worldbuilding. Jones’ “Mute” fails to recapture any of what made “2049” brilliant.

Almost every sequence in “Mute” contains something that defies logic. From the beginning of the film, in which Leo’s Amish family poses for a photograph, viewers know they’re about to watch a film that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Characters make seemingly random decisions and come to improbable revelations, red herrings abound, and side characters that serve little to no purpose are introduced.

“Mute” seems like a film envisioned through the eyes of a perverted teenager. Characters and subplots are introduced which serve only to depict some fetishistic, repulsive desire, like intercourse with robots and pedophilia.

Viewers can’t even become emotionally attached to Leo, the main character. While Skarsgård obviously cares about the film, his performance eventually devolves into awkward stares at other characters, often with teary eyes.

Unlike Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” which utilized its mute protagonist to portray emotionally resonant themes of isolation and alienation, “Mute” fails to use this concept to flesh out Leo’s character or build viewers’ emotional attachment to him. Although, viewers might be entertained solely through the unintentionally humorous nature of Skarsgård’s performance.

The film’s dialogue lacks any trace of subtlety, often force-feeding viewers exposition and characters’ motivations.

Cactus proves the most compelling character, but he seems to be in a different movie altogether. If “Mute” were directed by Quentin Tarantino, Cactus might have been an appropriate antagonist. His toxic, cynical demeanor is entertaining in a sort of guilty pleasure kind of way. In this film, though, his darkly humorous dialogue seems completely out of place with the overbearingly morose proceedings.

The only thing “Mute” has going for it is its depiction of futuristic Berlin. Even so, the cyberpunk setting seems a near-exact replicant — see what I did there — of Ridley Scott’s dystopian vision in the “Blade Runner” films.

When there are so many science-fiction offerings available for viewers to stream, there’s no excuse not to watch Jones’ 2009 masterpiece “Moon,” or either one of the “Blade Runner” films instead. Viewers deserve better than “Mute,” a painfully disappointing film from a once-great filmmaker.