We’ve met amateur detectives of all races, religions, and genders, and with all sorts of afflictions and hidden talents, but Alexander Skarsgård is almost certainly the first mute Amish illustrator/bartender to hit the dirty streets in search of a missing person. The missing person in Mute is the love of his life, Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh), who waited tables — and had to endure men putting their hands up her skirt — at a teeming, high-tech Berlin dance club where Skarsgård’s Leo tends bar. Early on, we see her tell off a sneering gangster who asks how Naadirah could love a mute: “He doesn’t need words. He’s kind.” But now she’s gone, and Leo grabs his custom notepad reading “MUTE” and makes off with the nearest hover car.
Did I mention Mute — directed by Duncan Jones, of Moon — unfolds in an unspecified future that’s part Blade Runner, part Minority Report, part Amazon.com wet dream of circling commercial drones? The setting doesn’t add much to the noir story line, but I loved the idea that a guy could order food and tell the dispatcher to bring it to him wherever he happens to be. The food-ordering guy doesn’t figure into the plot — he’s background noise. But the plot isn’t exactly a nail-biter, so it’s Jones’s vision of an ultradecadent future in which cameras are everywhere and spies spy on spies spying on spies that keep us from clicking over to yet another Parks and Recreation rerun on Netflix — where Mute premiered.
Another reason to watch is Paul Rudd and the mutton chops that give him, perhaps for the first time in his career, a sinister cast. Yes, the world’s nicest actor is playing a character of ambiguous morals, a surgeon and drunk on the run from a hellish stint in Afghanistan (where Americans are evidently a permanent presence) and determined to get back to the U.S. somehow. Billboards everywhere exhort Berliners to turn in AWOL American soldiers.
Rudd’s doctor comrade is played by Justin Theroux in another performance where you know something’s off about the guy but can’t tell if it’s the character or the actor who’s making you nervous. Theroux is really good and creepy. So is Rudd, for that matter. The movie is better when it lingers on the pair instead of Skarsgård, a fine actor reduced to a lanky frame and moist eyes. (“Keep walkin’, ya lanky prick!” yells one of the bad guys, which reminded me of the Dennis the Menace cartoon in which Dennis’s dad soothes his son, bruised from defending his father: “But son, I am lanky!”) Also, it’s hard to torture a mute for information because he needs his hands free.
Mute is pretty meh but gets points for randomness. The climax features a pedophile making off with a little girl while the mute struggles to make a sound. It’s as if someone laid out the story line like Mad Libs, leaving blanks for someone else to yell, “Mute!” “Amish!” “Pedophile!”