Review: Just hit ‘Mute’ on bumbling sci-fi debacle

‘Moon’ director Duncan Jones drops the ball on Netflix’s future-set noir mystery

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“Mute” is such a mystifying failure it will leave you speechless.

This sci-fi noir stars Alexander Skarsgård as Leo, a formerly-Amish mute on the hunt for his missing girlfriend Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh). The setting is a “Blade Runner”-esque future Berlin, where almost everybody speaks English and very few people have a trace of a German accent.

Leo’s search leads him through a grimy underworld of sex workers and kinky tech. Paul Rudd is comically miscast as Cactus Bill, an off-kilter underground surgeon with Goose Gossage facial hair who is trying to get his papers together so he can return to the United States.

His partner is Duck (Justin Theroux), a pedophile who uses his prosthetic limb business to record footage of young girls in compromising positions. Being a father of a young girl himself, Cactus Bill confronts Duck over his twisted taste for kids. Seconds later, in the film’s most ridiculous scene, he invites Duck to go celebrate with him at the mall.

“Mute” comes from “Moon” writer and director (and son of David Bowie) Duncan Jones, who also swung and missed with 2016’s video game flop “Warcraft.” He has a grip on cool visuals and future tech — the robot strippers are a nice touch, as is the tri-level bowling alley — but he has no clue how to wrangle a wide-reaching mystery with a tangled web of characters (look for Dominic Monaghan as a cross-dressing geisha and Sam Rockwell reprising his “Moon” role) and gumshoe plotting.

“Mute” is premiering on Netflix, which despite the streaming service’s prestige factor, feels like a dumping ground. In theaters, you may be inclined to see this mess through to the end. At home, you can just turn it off.

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Not rated: language, violence, sexual situations

Running time: 125 minutes