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Billed as Switzerland’s first sci-fi film, Ivan Engler and Ralph Etter’s debut feature “Cargo” sports expansive good looks on a fraction of the usual Hollywood budget. But impressive design elements compensate only so much for pic’s unsure grasp on narrative, suspense and character involvement. Already released on home format following last fall’s theatrical release in German-speaking nations, the film should continue to score offshore DVD and cable deals.

It’s 2267, and an undefined “Big Collapse” has rendered Earth uninhabitable. Most humans live in depressing space stations, hoping one day they can afford passage to paradisiacal, corporate-owned new settlement planet Rhea. That’s the goal for Laura (Anna-Katharina Schwabroh), who’s signed as medic onto a dreary four-year cargo ship stint. But naturally, things start going mysteriously wrong during the trip, with the dwindling crew at the mercy of a terrorist stowaway or some other force. Variably reminiscent of “Alien,” “Sunshine,” “The Matrix” and other dystopian pics, “Cargo’s” visual scale and tech contributions are mostly first-rate. But flatly handled action, tepid storytelling, dullish perfs and lack of human conflict keep excitement at a minimum.

Cargo

Switzerland

  • Production: An Ascot Elite Entertainment Group presentation of an Atlantis Pictures production in association with Centauri Media, Schweizer Fernsehen, SRG SSR Idee Suisse and Teleclub. Produced by Marcel Wolfisberg. Directed by Ivan Engler, Ralph Etter. Screenplay, Arnold Bucher, Engler, Patrick Steinmann, Johnny Hartmann, Thilo Roscheisen.
  • Crew: Camera (color, widescreen, 35mm-to-HD), Ralph Baetschmann; editors, Engler, Timo Fritsche, Bastian Ahrens; music, Frederik Stromberg; production designer, Matthias Noger; costume designer, Rudolf Jost. Reviewed at San Francisco Film Festival (The Late Show), April 29, 2010. (Also in SXSW, Seattle film festivals.) Running time: 107 MIN.
  • With: (German dialogue)
  • Music By: